On May 16 1967 Charles de Gaulle, premier of France who were, at the time the largest and dominant economy of the ‘European 6’ that had formed the Common Marker, or European Economic Community (EEC); forerunner to the EU, prevented Britain from joining. The other five nations including Germany were keen to have Britain join. de Gaulle’s decision was in fact a repeat to his original, “Non!” in 1962/3 when Britain first applied.
What is most galling about this whole historical situation is that it was Britain who first sold the idea of some ‘United States of Europe’ toward the end of World War II. And it was Britain that first set up an organization to develop the initial instruments. It was only the fact that France, recognizing it was also losing its own empire in Africa who decided to try to preserve it, just as Britain was seeking to jettison its own empire troubles peacefully, usurped the idea as its own! France reinvented the idea and took the hapless but thankful Germans along for the ride.
But the analogy today is striking. France was not getting everything its own way back then. During the negotiations with its Western allies it decided to withdraw NATO, partly as a tactic to limit what it saw as Anglo-Saxon control of NATO that was pivoting against the Soviet Union. Yes, France actually withdrew from NATO. She withdrew in 1966 and in fact was keen to build a ‘European Europe’ distinct from an Anglo-Saxon structures. France led other nations to contemplate its own European defense force to operate independent of NATO.
So here we again in 2016 and we see and hear and read of France trying to do the same thing. Only a few weeks ago we heard France float the idea of an independent military force. This remains, as it was in the 60’s, a detrimental idea. NATO acts as the true umbrella for western defense and the US acts as the back-stop to it. Ideological politicians who are against the US and more in favor of self-aggrandizement are now stepping up the arguments, using Trump’s campaign rhetoric.
Trump has and will not reject NATO; we heard President Obama say yesterday in his press briefing that, during his recent 1-1 with president elect Trump, NATO came up and it was clear Trump is firmly behind it. Of course he is! He simply called out, during his election rhetoric, that NATO needs to pay its fair share of the bill. This was and is always fair. And the fact that the US highlighted this is little different to the period in the 40’s when Britain’s empire was shrinking and its commercial operations contracting and funds were drying up. It too had to make some tough calls.
Brussels, and France, need to step up and be honest with themselves and the rest of us. Europe cannot operate militarily outside of NATO. Europe can’t even yet financially support the very service that keeps them safe! How can they afford their own army?
Give up the rabble-rousing European defense force idea and get back into bed with the US. Of you don’t, you will have many more troubles than what you envisage with Britain leaving the club. Trump will soon enough stand tall with NATO. Then where will you be? At the foot of table, not near its’ head.