Despite being a founding member of both NATO and the European Union, France usually maintains its own independent position in international affairs. Occasionally, its stances may align with the rest of the EU or with the NATO alliance, but in other cases they can set the country on a collision course.
Such policies led France to be one of the first countries in the world to independently test a nuclear weapon during the rule of former president Charles de Gaulle. De Gaulle believed that France should have its own arsenal of nuclear weapons to maintain its independent power of political decision-making from the influence of the United States or other global powers. France managed to develop its nuclear weapons capability by 1960, being the fourth country in the world to do so.
The legacy of these independent decisions continued during the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, when then French president Jacques Chirac refused to join the ill-fated invasion and was subsequently proven right by history. Chirac’s refusal stripped former US president George W Bush, who ordered the invasion, of support and credibility.
France’s independent decision-making in the field of international affairs has also been shown in the policies pursued by current French President Emmanuel Macron in the Libyan Civil War through his opposition to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s exacerbating the near decade-long conflict. Macron believes that Erdogan is a major cause of instability in the Middle East and Mediterranean regions, and he has never bought into the theatrics of Erdogan since he understood the latter’s true intentions long before most other European countries did.
Macron has rejected the pretexts used by Erdogan to justify supporting the jihadist and Islamist allies of the Libyan government in Tripoli and his transport of Syrian mercenary jihadists to Tripoli in preparation for a full invasion of Libyan soil. These moves represent a clear and present danger to French national security, especially since Libya borders both Tunisia and Algeria which have long historical, political and economic ties with France. Accordingly, Macron has been vocal about his objections to the Turkish interference in Libyan affairs and has expressed his understanding of Egyptian national security concerns about the Turkish involvement in Libya.
The past few months have seen Franco-Turkish relations deteriorate at a fast pace, seeing an exchange of accusations between the two countries’ leaders and direct accusations by Macron of Erdogan’s supporting terrorism. These arguments reached the level of a near military confrontation in the Mediterranean last month, when three Turkish naval vessels stopped a French frigate from intercepting a cargo ship suspected of carrying weapons to terrorist militias in Libya. As a result of the incident, France suspended its role in NATO’s naval mission in the Mediterranean, called Sea Guardian, instead offering its help to the EU mission in the Mediterranean that upholds the UN arms embargo on Libya.
France is protesting strongly against the Turkish aggression in the Middle East and Mediterranean, where Erdogan seems to have rejected the need to follow any laws or international agreements in his search to expand his influence. Macron has accused Turkey of “criminal responsibility” in Libya and stressed that the country’s intervention there threatens European security. He is the first major Western leader to take a stand against Erdogan’s expansionist ambitions after nearly a decade of Turkish aggression in the region. The French are also rallying other European powers, as well as Middle Eastern allies such as Egypt, against the marauding Turkish ambitions in the Mediterranean.
France was one of the countries that openly opposed the request of Turkey to join the EU as a full member. It could see that the growth of Islamist sentiment in Turkey in the new millennium was too large to ignore. The French were not convinced that an Islamist government in Turkey would be good for the EU, and time has proven this vision to be correct. France now opposes the Turkish invasion of Libya and the illegal demarcation agreements signed between the Erdogan regime and the puppet government in Libya of Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sarraj.
Unlike many Western hawks, France does not consider Russia to be a clear and present danger to NATO at the moment, but maintains the more pragmatic perception that Russia, despite decades of feuds and conflicts with the Western world, is no longer the enemy it once was despite Russia’s still-present political ambitions. Macron believes that Russia could be a balancing power against the rise of Islamism, which Russian President Vladimir Putin has been vehemently fighting for years.
Moreover, he believes that a conflict with Russia would be a doomsday scenario, especially for Europe, and that it ought to be avoided at all costs.
Instead, the true menace, according to the French perspective, stems from the Islamists and terrorist jihadist groups that follow this destructive doctrine. Indeed, the real enemy of Europe and the greatest threat to its way of life and politics is ironically an ally in NATO, in other words Turkey. The latest Turkish attempts at invading Libya manifest the kind of danger that the Islamist Turkish state led by Erdogan represents to the Mediterranean region and the rest of Europe.
Macron has been swift in acknowledging Egypt’s worries at seeing a Turkish presence develop in Libya and how this would destroy any attempts to regain stability in North Africa. The French vision of the situation in the Mediterranean and the Middle East thus far surpasses the myopic vision of many Western capitals. There have been only wishy-washy stances from the likes of Italy, Britain and Germany towards Turkey’s aggressive role in the region. These myopic visions include feckless statements condemning Turkish behaviour but not including any practical political moves on the ground.
The French position should be embraced by Egypt as well as Egypt’s allies in the region including European ones such as Greece and Cyprus with a view to forming a united front against the incessant aggression by Erdogan’s Turkey.
Thanks to Erdogan’s provocations, the latest of which is the conversion of the museum of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul into a mosque, thus displaying the ill intentions of the Turkish leader towards the believers of other religions, there is very little chance that Erdogan’s Turkey will ever be a member of the EU, with France in particular making sure that this will never happen.
*The writer is a political analyst and author of Egypt’s Arab Spring and the Winding Road to Democracy.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 16 July, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly