In­side Macron’s Rus­sia ini­tia­tive

The Korea Times - - OPINION - By Mark Leonard Mark Leonard is di­rec­tor of the Euro­pean Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions. Copy­right be­longs to Pro­ject Syndicate (­

BER­LIN — French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron is one of those lead­ers who wants to bend the arc of history. Hav­ing up­ended French politics, he has se­cured po­si­tions for his pre­ferred can­di­dates at the head of the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion and the Euro­pean Cen­tral Bank, and is now try­ing to im­prove Europe’s re­la­tion­ship with Rus­sia.

French of­fi­cials are com­par­ing Macron’s Rus­sia strat­egy to U.S. Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon’s open­ing of China in 1972. But Macron’s diplo­matic over­ture is more like Nixon in re­verse.

Rather than woo­ing China in or­der to con­tain the Sovi­ets, Macron wants to “ease and clar­ify [Europe’s] re­la­tions with Rus­sia” in or­der to pre­vent Rus­sia from cozy­ing up to China. In so do­ing, he hopes to se­cure Europe’s con­trol over its own fu­ture.

Macron launched his bid for a new se­cu­rity ar­chi­tec­ture in a typ­i­cally grandiose fash­ion, mir­ror­ing the ur­ban plan­ner Ge­orges-Eu­gene Hauss­mann’s pro­ject to re­design Paris in the 19th cen­tury.

His first move was to hold talks with Putin in France’s Fort de Bre­gan­con be­fore the Au­gust G7 sum­mit in Biar­ritz. But the French min­is­ters charged with im­ple­ment­ing the plan have since turned it on its head.

Now, rather than start­ing with a top-down agenda, they are try­ing to build Euro­pean se­cu­rity from the bot­tom up, while pur­su­ing im­proved re­la­tions with Rus­sia one brick at a time. The French roadmap fo­cuses on five key ar­eas: dis­ar­ma­ment, se­cu­rity di­a­logue, cri­sis man­age­ment, val­ues, and com­mon projects.

In late Au­gust, Macron de­liv­ered a speech out­lin­ing his vi­sion of a sys­tem of “con­cen­tric cir­cles” com­pris­ing vary­ing de­grees of Euro­pean and Eurasian in­te­gra­tion. Such an ar­range­ment would have to se­cure NATO and EU mem­ber states’ bor­ders, al­low for a more pro­duc­tive re­la­tion­ship with the Rus­sia-led Eurasian Eco­nomic Union, and of­fer ways to man­age re­gional con­flicts, not least the one in Ukraine.

The tim­ing of the ini­tia­tive makes sense. Like Macron him­self, Ukraine’s re­cently elected pres­i­dent, Volodymyr Ze­len­sky, cre­ated a po­lit­i­cal party out of noth­ing, and came to power on the prom­ise of sweep­ing away a dis­cred­ited an­cien regime. More to the point, Ze­len­sky has made re­solv­ing Ukraine’s se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion a top pri­or­ity.

Macron be­lieves that Rus­sia’s grav­i­ta­tion to­ward China is at least partly the re­sult of West­ern mis­man­age­ment. He is not naive about the Krem­lin’s ter­ri­to­rial ag­gres­sion and election in­ter­fer­ence.

But any coun­try in a po­si­tion to pose such threats to Europe, he be­lieves, must be en­gaged face to face. As one French of­fi­cial ex­plained to me, “What is true of Iran and North Korea is also true for Rus­sia. We won’t be able to in­flu­ence it and lead it to more re­spon­si­ble be­hav­ior if we just hide be­hind a wall of sanc­tions.”

Adding fur­ther ur­gency to Macron’s ef­forts is U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who has con­firmed France’s Gaullist sus­pi­cions about Amer­ica’s un­re­li­a­bil­ity as a guar­an­tor of Euro­pean se­cu­rity.

As the United States es­ca­lates its con­flict with China, it inevitably will pay less at­ten­tion to Europe and the sur­round­ing neigh­bor­hood (the ex-Soviet Union, the Mid­dle East, and North Africa). Worse, the French fear that Trump might pur­sue a grand bar­gain with Rus­sia, leav­ing the Euro­pean Union hemmed in be­tween the U.S. and China.

Macron’s big­gest con­cern is Europe it­self. The EU will never be­come a global player in the twenty-first cen­tury if it con­tin­ues to be di­vided and boxed in by other pow­ers. In Macron’s view, re­cast­ing Europe’s re­la­tion­ship with Rus­sia is the first step to­ward se­cur­ing Euro­pean sovereignt­y.

“If you don’t have a seat at the great power ta­ble,” one French of­fi­cial tells me, “it’s be­cause you’re on the menu.” To be sure, the French un­der­stand other Eu­ro­peans’ sup­port for the sanc­tions im­posed on Rus­sia fol­low­ing its an­nex­a­tion of Crimea and in­cur­sion into East­ern Ukraine; but they fear the flim­si­ness of Europe’s broader se­cu­rity pol­icy.

Ideally, the EU should pur­sue a two-pronged ap­proach to Rus­sia, com­bin­ing sanc­tions and NATO’s de­ter­rence with en­gage­ment. The French com­plaint is that there are no mean­ing­ful chan­nels for such en­gage­ment, and that sanc­tions do not ad­dress the over­all threat that Rus­sia poses.

“What would hap­pen to Euro­pean unity,” French of­fi­cials won­der, “if Moscow made a move on Ukraine or Syria and some mem­ber states de­cided to block sanc­tions re­newal?” Most likely, it would spell the end of the EU’s Rus­sia pol­icy.

Still, Macron’s ini­tia­tive raises many ques­tions. Whether Putin has any in­ter­est in re­solv­ing the Ukraine con­flict re­mains to be seen. And even if Europe is ca­pa­ble of de­tach­ing Rus­sia from China, it is un­clear whether the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion would stand by and let the Euro­pean ini­tia­tive play out.

But the big­gest ques­tions are on the Euro­pean front. Many Cen­tral and East­ern Euro­pean coun­tries worry that they will be sec­ond-class cit­i­zens within Macron’s frame­work of “con­cen­tric cir­cles.”

Oth­ers fear that Macron will sell out Ukraine by forc­ing it to set­tle the con­flict on Rus­sia’s terms. And it doesn’t help that Macron launched his ini­tia­tive with­out first con­sult­ing other Eu­ro­peans, many of whom are al­ready anx­ious about Amer­ica’s wan­ing com­mit­ment to EU se­cu­rity.

French of­fi­cials pointed out that Nixon didn’t con­sult U.S. al­lies be­fore em­bark­ing on his mis­sion to China. But Nixon’s cred­i­bil­ity as a se­cu­rity hawk was un­ques­tioned, whereas France is re­garded sus­pi­ciously by some in Cen­tral and East­ern Europe, who fear that their in­ter­ests, too, might be sac­ri­ficed in a neo-Gaullist at­tempt to claim a spot on the world stage.

If Macron is to suc­ceed, he will have to prove that he is com­mit­ted to the sovereignt­y and se­cu­rity not just of Cen­tral and East­ern Europe, but also of ex-Soviet coun­tries such as Ukraine, Ge­or­gia, and Moldova.

He will also have to pur­sue deeper col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Nordic and Baltic states, as well as with the rel­e­vant EU in­sti­tu­tions and the new High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive for For­eign Af­fairs and Se­cu­rity Pol­icy, Josep Bor­rell.

Above all, Macron’s ini­tia­tive must cre­ate a cred­i­ble plat­form for a com­mon ap­proach to se­cu­rity. If it is seen as fa­vor­ing some coun­tries over oth­ers, it and its au­thor will end up on the menu, rather than in the history books.

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