Trump's Turn From Europe Gives Boost to Macron's Military Drive

(Bloomberg) -- When the U.S. holds a security summit on Iran in Warsaw Thursday, France won’t be there and that may suit President Emmanuel Macron just fine.

The French leader is pushing his European Union allies to forge a stronger, more self-sufficient and more unified military. The bloc’s difficult relationship with Washington is helping to bolster his arguments, according to a person familiar with his thinking.

President Donald Trump’s surprise decision to withdraw American troops from Syria, his behind-the-scenes doubts over the U.S. commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and his hectoring of allies over their defense commitments have given impetus to a European push for a stronger army to pick up the slack of a U.S. that is increasingly skeptical of trans-Atlantic relations.

“Trump’s policies have a corrosive impact on the alliance and on its credibility as a defense tool,” Bruno Tertrais, Deputy Director of the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research, said in an interview. “Trump’s attitude and statements affect the credibility of NATO as a deterrence and defense instrument.”

Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who won’t be represented in Warsaw either, announced last month their commitment to a “European army,” a concept that still has to be defined in detail. But Macron’s office has said the vision is more about tighter cooperation and ensuring existing national military systems can interact than a single force serving under one flag and uniform.

‘Common Defense’

But the road ahead isn’t necessarily clear for Europe. While Macron’s military push has created disturbances in the Oval Office, it’s also caused consternation in other European capitals that may not want to get on Trump’s bad side. Some EU members are more concerned about shoring up their relationship with the U.S. to preserve the traditional security umbrella than building up their own capabilities.

“Europeans have to rely more on their own capabilities, but the way to respond for now is not the same across Europe,” Martin Quencez, an analyst at the German Marshal Fund in Paris, said in an interview, adding that some countries like Poland and Norway would prefer to reinforce U.S. relations. “This is obviously a case study for the French to show their EU allies what could be done for a European defense.”

And while the White House has since offered a defense of NATO and its commitment to the western alliance’s shared security, the mood in Europe has changed.

Merkel and Macron sent a signal across the Atlantic last month with the signature of the Aachen Treaty, a renewal of friendship vows between the two former enemies. The accord highlighted the need for a more united defense industry as a way to bolster the safety of the European Union in the face of flagging American support.

“We’re committing ourselves to a common military culture, a common defense industry, a common line on weapons exports,” Merkel said at the signing ceremony. “With this, we both want to do our part to contribute toward a European army.”

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