Emmanuel Macron has rocked a very sensitive boat. For decades, the United States' repeated calls on European NATO allies to “shoulder their fair share of the burden” by increasing their defense budgets has also had a, usually unsaid but entirely well understood, objective, that is to sell, on an amicable and captive market, as many products of the American armaments industry as they can. And now, according to the French president, that should come to an end.
Interviewed on CNN, President Macron expressed himself in no uncertain terms: “What I don’t want to see is European countries increasing the budget in defense in order to buy Americans’ and other arms or materials coming from your industry”. In other words, he takes a strong and unambiguous stand in favor of a European preference, the same approach that has always prevailed in the USA when it comes to purchase items for their own defense. The timing is crucial and the stakes are, indeed, high. With the European NATO members’ planned budget increase to 2% of GDP, an additional $ 100 billion risk to be syphoned from European treasuries and redirected to the United States.
It is to be noted that Emmanuel Macron is merely repeating the reasoning advocated by France, more or less discreetly, for decades. And that he has, in addition to common sense, all the - political, military, budgetary - arguments on his side. As far as geopolitics is concerned, credibility on the international scene presupposes, first and foremost, the ability to make one's own independent defense-related choices. This, in turn, requires not to be at the mercy of anyone in the manufacturing and supplying of the material means of said defense.
In the military field, the notable divergence between the American and European “way of war” - doctrinal differences in terms of the use of sufficient vs. overwhelming force, the priority given to force protection vs. establishing contact with local population, the place devoted to technology, etc. - also supports the case for Europeans buying home-made military hardware. On the budget side, British researchers from the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) had calculated a few years ago that a contract awarded to a domestic manufacturer returns, in the form of taxes and insurance, more than a third of the contract’s amount to the State treasury.
The French president's comments on CNN are above all a wake-up call to his European partners. Especially after the recent, highly contested, Belgian choice to buy American F-35 fighter jets. Another proof that although Europeans like to boast about the “advances” of European defense and about the need for independence, decisions do not follow. The CEO of Dassault Aviation was not completely wrong when he spoke of Europe by pointing out “an intention to buy American regardless of the price, regardless of the operational needs.” Except that today, it is to be decided that in the service of which interests and objectives Europeans intend to spend, eventually, an additional 100 billion dollars a year.
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