Macron Rallies For E.U. Influence In Indo-Pacific Post-AUKUS Crisis

On October 4th, plans to pitch a greater European Union presence in the Indo-Pacific region were announced on behalf of French president Emmanuel Macron. This comes in the wake of the AUKUS crisis in September, which saw Australia cancel a substantial submarine contract with France and opt instead for U.S.-designed vessels as part of a new security alliance with the U.S. and Britain. In response, France briefly recalled its ambassador to Washington, D.C.

According to Reuters, a Macron advisor expressed the opportunity now available for E.U. member states in the Indo-Pacific, particularly in terms of expanding trade, security, defense, and navigational freedom. “We don’t want to push Europeans into making a sort of binary choice between partnership with the U.S. or Europe turning inward,” the Macron advisor said. “The issue is how to create the conditions for a partnership in the best interests of Europeans, knowing that the United States obviously remain our allies.”

Especially given the E.U.’s strength — its Cold War-era precarity a thing of the past — this announcement suggests that Macron wants to leverage the AUKUS crisis in order to call more shots on the global stage. France has 7,000 military personnel stationed in territories in the Indo-Pacific and is eager to protect (and potentially expand) its interests in the region, especially in light of China’s increasing activity in the South China Sea. Rooted in this impulse for defense of interests rather than a need for defense itself, the subtly-disguised call for imperialist expansion reveals its underlying motivation: to redirect attention from recent embarrassments. Competition with the U.S. and Britain is very much at play, especially with the context of repeated threats against any European action that could potentially challenge N.A.T.O.

As a result, this announcement does not come as much of a surprise. Macron has been pushing for European “strategic autonomy” in defense since he emerged as a presidential candidate in 2017. While many Western E.U. member states are on board, those in Eastern Europe hesitate, concerned that strategic autonomy could weaken N.A.T.O.’s role as a buffer to Russian influence and action. In a press conference on September 29th, Macron said, “Europeans must come out of their naivety. We must, as Europeans, take our part in our protection.” E.U. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and German politician (and likely incoming chancellor) Olaf Scholz have recently expressed similar sentiments.

Within just a few days of this announcement, France signed a $3.4 billion deal to grant Greece three state-of-the-art warships, likely to strengthen defense in the Mediterranean. As Defense Priorities fellow and Newsweek foreign affairs columnist Daniel R. DePetris concluded in an October 7th article for Business Insider, European strategic autonomy, at least pertaining to events on the continent, is a common-sense proposition. Yet, when it comes to the Indo-Pacific region, the question remains whether increased European (and for that matter, U.S., British, and Australian) activity is essential, or just a new iteration of the inter-imperialist rivalry that has long sought to influence the flow of capital and power around the globe.