French President Emmanuel Macron sees his country’s nuclear arsenal as a military key to political leadership in the European Union, according to U.S. and European officials.
“We can say that he broke [the] nuclear taboo, to a certain extent, which is a serious thing for societies to remind that there is such a thing like nuclear threats,” Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz told the Washington Examiner in an exclusive interview after the Munich Security Conference. “Everybody knows there are nuclear weapons, but we do not talk about that. You start to talk; you want to show something.”
The full scope of Macron’s ambition remains unclear, but he has invoked France’s nuclear weapons repeatedly in the weeks since the United Kingdom left the EU. He returned to that theme on Saturday, touting the value of that arsenal in political disputes with the United States, such as the fissure between Washington and European capitals over the value of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
“We have to create our own capability that bestows credibility on us, so that we can protect ourselves and that we can be able to act,” Macron said during a question-and-answer session at the conference. “If we do not have the ability to act, then in foreign policy, we will not be credible, especially with regards to the United States.”
The French leader offered that exhortation to explain why he believes that “our nuclear forces … strengthen the security of Europe through their very existence, and they have, in this sense, a truly European dimension,” as he put it in a major Feb. 7 speech.
Macron emphasized to the European assembly that is offering “to conduct joint exercises” involving France’s nuclear weapons, even though Paris refuses to participate in such exercises with NATO, which relies on the American nuclear arsenal.
“We can … talk about U.S. nuclear assets but not about British or French nuclear assets because it always had to go through the United States,” he said before calling for cooperation with Germany in particular. “I know this debate is not easy in Germany, but I do believe that we have to conduct a calm debate, a level-headed debate, so we can not always have to go through the United States. No. We have to think in a European way as well.”
Berlin’s hesitance to yield to Paris the kind of political leadership that would come with a dependence on a French nuclear umbrella might undercut Macron’s attempt to establish a new “strategic culture” in Europe.
“The German establishment is quite divided in responding to the reality that in the EU, France is today after Brexit the only nuclear power,” NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoana said during a recent Washington Examiner interview. “I think there is a long, long way between having these capabilities and eventually offering them. But when it comes to NATO, I think the U.S. nuclear deterrence is the only active policy.”
Czaputowicz, allowing that “France might contribute to common security,” echoed Geoana.
“From our perspective, of course, transatlantic relations are the only guarantor for our security,” he said, noting that the American arsenal is the only one big enough “to create a real deterrence for the Russians.”