Macron’s Turkish gambit

Macron is similarly exploiting the Mediterranean conflict to call American leadership into question. Washington approaches the Greco-Turkish dispute as a squabble between friends, and it seeks to mediate. Despite serious tensions with the Erdoğan government over a host of issues, Washington continues to see Turkey as a natural counterbalance to Russia and Iran, and it therefore will not join France in championing maximalist Greek claims in the Mediterranean dispute. This constraint on the United States thus offers Macron an opportunity to score points against the Americans in Athens, just as he scores points against the Germans—but with one major difference.

Greece is a member of the European Union, and Turkey is not. This distinction offers Macron an opening to go before his European counterparts and argue that the reluctance of America and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to support Greece points to a major deficiency in the security architecture of Europe. And of course, Macron has a remedy for this deficiency: “Strategic autonomy” for Europe—the idea of creating a European army that is independent of NATO and the United States.

The direct connection between Macron’s anti-Turkey campaign and his concept of “strategic autonomy” first became explicit in November 2019, when the French president told the Economist that we were witnessing the “brain death” of NATO. The alliance, he explained, had expired not just because of the “instability of our American partner,” but also because of the failure of the United States to stand up forcefully to Turkey. At that moment, Turkish behavior in Syria, not in the Mediterranean, was the justification Macron proffered for an independent European military. “You have an uncoordinated aggressive action by another NATO ally, Turkey, in an area where our interests are at stake. There has been no NATO planning, nor any coordination,” he said. NATO’s brain-dead status led to an obvious conclusion: “Europe must become autonomous in terms of military strategy and capability.”

In the short term, Macron is calling for a European force that will defend against the supposed Turkish threat. But in the long term, the French president’s goal is grander still. An autonomous European force, he explained in a recent interview, will create a third pole in global affairs, becoming a counterbalance to “the Chinese-American duopoly.” Given France’s strategic culture and military power, Macron views Paris as the natural leader of such a pole.

Et voilà! We arrive at the central goals of Macron’s anti-Turkey campaign: to replace NATO and to detach Europe from the United States…

Despite what Erdoğan says, Macron’s mental health appears to be perfectly sound. The same cannot be said, however, of the Americans who follow his lead. Macron makes a show of attacking Turkey, but the American-led order in Europe is his true target.

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