By Michel Rose
PARIS (Reuters) – President Emmanuel Macron on Friday offered to open a “strategic dialogue” with willing European partners about the role of French nuclear deterrence policy in continental security, calling for a “surge” in European defense spending and resolve.
The overture to Europeans chimes with Macron’s insistence that Europe should reinforce its strategic autonomy in the face of growing global threats and stop relying solely on the United States and the transatlantic alliance for its defense.
In a much-anticipated speech on French nuclear deterrence, a ritual for every French president under the Fifth Republic, Macron said that European nations who wanted to do so, could be associated with French nuclear deterrence wargames.
“France’s vital interests now have a European dimension,” Macron told the future elite of French armed forces at Paris’ Ecole de Guerre.
“European partners who want to do so will be able to be associated to French deterrence forces’ wargames,” he said.
Elysee officials did not elaborate on what form this association could take, but said this did not mean “sharing” French deterrence but “talking about it and deepening Europeans’ joint strategic culture.”
The French leader, who refused to place the French nuclear deterrent under EU or NATO command, as suggested recently by a German lawmaker, also reaffirmed that Brexit would not change anything regarding France’s nuclear co-operation with Britain.
France, the EU’s only nuclear power since Britain left the bloc, has long prided itself in its independent deterrent, built by World War Two hero Charles de Gaulle and confirmed by French presidents ever since.
Paris spends about 3.5 billion euros ($4 billion) annually on maintaining its stockpile of about 300 submarine-launched and air-launched nuclear weapons. It plans to spend 5 billion euros a year by 2020 on modernizing its nuclear weapons capacity.
It put an end to nuclear weapons testing in 1996 after a test in the South Pacific sparked global outrage.
The criticism was especially fierce in Germany, where anti-nuclear sentiment is strong and the U.S. nuclear umbrella is considered a cornerstone of security.
“The issue is not for Europeans to know whether they must defend themselves with or without Washington,” Macron said. “But our security derives also, inevitably, from a greater capacity by Europeans to act autonomously.”
He added that European freedom could only come from “economic and digital sovereignty”, citing 5G and cloud computing as systemic “nerve centers”:
“To build the Europe of tomorrow, our norms can’t be under American control. Our infrastructures, our ports and airports can’t be controlled by Chinese capital, neither can our digital networks be under Russian pressure,” Macron said.
(Reporting by Michel Rose, Editing by William Maclean)