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The Atlantic Alliance in great shape with Joe Biden. France taken from behind

(B2) In addition to the reunion with the boss, US President Joe Biden, the NATO summit on June 14 could signal a new impetus for the Atlantic Alliance. If there is military and political reinforcement, it will be in a classic way. To the chagrin of those such as Emmanuel Macron, who wanted a vast reform of the Alliance

Joe Biden for his first steps on European soil as American President in the United Kingdom (tradition obliges), in front of the US Air Force soldiers at Mildenhall base (credit: White House)

America is back, NATO is back

The arrival of Joe Biden is an important signal. The return of the United States to a more traditional, more predictable position makes the turn of the debates more peaceful, more classic with all the Allies. They could thus hasten to return to the position of the fetus, comfortable, placed under the American umbrella. The desire for a European pillar in the Alliance, for a complete overhaul such as French President Emmanuel Macron had if not dreamed of, at least proclaimed, are in the process of collapsing.

The commotion is over and revolution

US President Joe Biden said it clearly when he arrived on English soil on Wednesday, June 9, in front of US Air Force personnel gathered at RAF Mildenhall base: “ The Transatlantic Alliance remains a source of lifeblood for the UK, Europe and the US ". As for the mutual defense clause: America's commitment to our NATO Alliance and Article 5 is rock solid. It's a sacred obligation ". There is no longer any question of questioning this clause as his predecessor Donald Trump seemed to do. Nor has the time come to draw up the balance sheet of the alliance “, or even of” think[r] about defence, the security of Europeans » as the French president wished (read: NATO in a state of brain death according to Emmanuel Macron).

The Allies in the fetal position

After the Trump episode, most European countries do not want to revolutionize their beautiful Alliance. On the contrary, they want to give it a lick of paint, without changing the fundamentals. The threats are in the East, possibly even in the far East (aka China). The Alliance must be  » dealing with both traditional military aspects (air, land, sea and space) and new areas: cyber, disruptive technologies, climate change, etc. And NATO must be the space — the forum they say at Alliance HQ—where all security issues must be discussed, frankly if necessary. In short, as the Secretary General of the Alliance says, without being really contradicted: NATO must be " militarily strong, politically stronger and united.

Paris returns to the right path ?

For France, which wanted to assert Europe's place in security, this return to basics is not very good news. Paradoxically, in the time of Donald Trump, Paris occupied a place of choice and could give more voice. Despite their differences, the French liberal and the American republican went in the same direction, sharing the observation on the obsolescence of the Alliance. This discourse is no longer in tune with the times. And Paris will have to give guarantees of good faith in a refocused Alliance, around its leader (in Washington), in particular on the increase in the common costs of NATO. In a major dialogue with the Americans, France will not be able to fight on all fronts: the position vis-à-vis China, the taxation of GAFA, the commitment on Covid-19 vaccines... and Defense Europe. Beyond big words, this one could therefore bear the brunt of the " reunion » Euro-Atlantic (1). And with it the ambition of a " strategic autonomy widely idolized in Paris.

The stillborn idea of ​​European empowerment

The Americans are already knocking on the door of all the defense tools of the EU: the permanent structured cooperation, the European Defense Agency and the European Defense Fund (FEDef). With a danger: the alignment on a single planet of all these officially autonomous tools. There is a risk of seeing the EDF transform — under the guise of industrial competitiveness — into a tool enabling Member States to develop capabilities “ interoperable with their American counterparts (i.e. serving their purposes). Theorized European strategic autonomy would then become even more difficult to achieve. In other words, we would return to the traditional axiom: the 'hard defense' (defence on the military side) and military guidance to NATO, the 'soft' (industries, internal security) to the European Union.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

  1. The absence of a NATO-EU summit meeting, on the sidelines of the NATO summit itself, as had become a habit since Warsaw in 2016, is very much due to Joe Biden's 'tight' agenda. But this symbol illustrates this change of tropism well.

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).