Geopolitics

France’s foreign policy ambition and geopolitical restructure

By | Rachel Brooks

November 15, 2020

Analysis commentary 

Above, Garden of the Grand Mosque, Paris, shows the merging of the western and eastern world in France, that now stands on the shaky ground of self-contradicting French ambition.

“File:Paris Grande Mosquée Garten 16.jpg” by Zairon is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

As the geopolitical experts analyze the role of France in modern foreign policy, questions of superpower ambition have been raised. An analysis of French global policy appeared in an op-ed of the Jewish press. The op-ed analyzed the role of France in the Middle East and Africa particularly focusing on French communication with Saudi Arabia and Djibouti.

The op-ed, written by Irina Tsukerman, a geopolitical consultant and media chairwoman with Republic Underground News, noted that France has taken responsibility for its former colonies. France has not taken its hands off of the former colonies even though its leader, Macron, has expressed regret over the impact of colonialism on the colonies in the past. 

“Indeed, France is closely cooperating with the United States and local governments – but perceives West Africa, the Sahel, and even North Africa, its former colonies and spheres of influence, as its responsibility – and areas where it wants to continue to stay in high regard and exert its presence,” wrote Tsukerman.

It was France that swooped to the scene when Beirut was devastated by the harbor explosion of August 4. It is France today who exercises a forceful initiative against Islamic extremism within its borders, France who has barred teeth and exchanged heated debates with Turkey. 

In the wake of recent issues, France through Macron continues to pursue its independent defense strategy and foreign policy. France appears to break away from former relative defense dependence on the United States, stressing the need to form its independent defense even if the United States is to adopt a new presidential administration in January, based on mainstream media projected results. The United States election is still being contested in Federal courts for allegations of voter irregularity and voter fraud. 

French ambition and the global response

Yet, the perceived French ambition in global politics, the potential for superpower initiative, is likely to be met with equal ambition around the globe. The issue of superpower rhetoric and ambition is that there are multiple modern figures in global politics vying for the same superpower interest. The Turkish government serves as an example of this, with the Turkish leader Erdogan envisioning a Turkish hegemony policy that returned to the political ideology of the Ottoman Empire. 

France and Turkey, rivalry and the reshaping of geopolitical structure 

French rivalry with Turkey, then, has the potential to realign the geopolitical structure. The rivalry of two nations who have, from opposite ends of social philosophy, France from its secular laicite theory and Turkey from its Islamic eastern-influenced policies, challenge the structure of modern geopolitics. The two inevitably clash with the force of their ambition. 

France and the Middle East 

Also, France and its presence in the Middle East likewise is a clash of western secularism and eastern spiritual social theory. In recent events, France has voiced its presence and interest in Lebanon’s establishment of a new government. Arab News reported that France has been urgent with its influence in Lebanon’s government formation. France is a constant in this process, offering to provide assistance step by step. Arab News commented on the lack of success Macron’s rescue efforts have had, even three months after the Beirut harbor crisis catalyzed the ultimate collapse of the Lebanese government. 

France in the Caucasus, the bridge of regional agendas

France has leaned with a bias toward the Armenian interest in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, even after its conclusion. France expressed concern that the Russian-mitigated cessation of hostilities led to the Nagorno-Karabakh region’s return to Azerbaijan, the nation that legally owns it under the UN charter. 

The French interest in the Caucasus, in the case of acting on Armenia’s interest, France states it acts on behalf of its historic and cultural ties with Armenia. Yet, there is also a strategic benefit to French interests in this region. Should France have global ambition, then Nagorno-Karabakh is a key region to secure for this agenda. Russia, apparently on behalf of its interest, has effectively occupied the territory. Russia’s presence in the region invites the presence of Turkey who has a rivalry with Russia as well. The presence of Russia in the region likewise triggers the interests of the United States and Iran. 

France, with its understood rivalry with the Russian government, see Warsaw Institute, is challenged by the political quandary Russia presents French internationalism in this region. France, while a rival of the Russian government and media, has positive ties with the Russian minority in France. The French president is viewed positively by Russians living abroad. The French president has held an open policy toward the Russian government, opening diplomatic invitation to Russia’s Putin directly after becoming president. 

Russia, with its responsibility seeking over areas of its former interest, will likewise want a presence in the region, and will not concede these interests to its rivals or western counterparts. The French ambition characterized by the French behavior in Lebanon post-government collapse and Africa-Middle East comes into play. France must maintain responsibility for its presence in the Minsk Group and the territorial link-up that the region of Armenia and Azerbaijan’s shared border tactically presents Eurasia and the Middle East.  

The “bridge of regional agendas” has been analyzed across panels. USNI News published a story by John Grady on November 12 suggesting that France could be the bridge partner between the U.S. and Europe to “counter China and Russia.” This analysis based itself on the assumptive guarantee that the Biden election will not be overturned by its contest in the U.S. Supreme Court, and likewise measured its argument on the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union. The analysis was based on Macron’s recognition of radical extremism as the top priority for his nation as of November 12. However, it noted that France has concerns over an “aggressive China and a revisionist Russia.” 

The French prioritization of terrorism domestically is the driving cause for its “boots to the ground” presence in the Sahel, citing Grady’s analysis. France would likely then be compelled to increase its Caucasus vigilance for the same reasons as its Sahel presence, to contradict extremism. In this case, the extremism could be generated out of the invitation by radical groups to the Caucasus region in the political aftermath of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. With France taking responsibility for nations it has ties to, it would likely be prompted to provide urgent assistance to Armenia in its political upheaval if the Armenian people cannot accept the terms of the ceasefire and overthrow their government. France may adopt a similar government reestablishment rhetoric in Armenia, in that event, that is adopted in Lebanon. Thus France would be interested in having a presence to combat Syrian militants hired by radical extremists hired by the Armenian informal forces. It may also be drawn to a “boots to the ground” control of increased activity between collapsing Armenia, entrenched military outfits that result, and the Islamic Republic of Iran’s proximity. During the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict of 2020, Iran increased activity near the Azerbaijan border and trafficked military equipment through the Nakhchivan Province. 

Emmanuel Macron’s self-contradiction  

France as a national power has a strong presence in international policy. France under Macron’s presidency is a player with a conflicting role. Macron, considered by scholars of French politics to be a purist of French secularism called laicite, has been a figure often at odds with the reculturization of France and its heavy Islamic presence. France, for example, was invited to be present in Lebanon post the Beirut crisis as the country has mandate-era ties. Lebanon has heavily Western-leaning opposition, despite its control by Islamic powers. Yet, at the same moment, Lebanon faced a mandate-like status from the French interest in its politics that were somewhat in contrast with Macron’s anti-Colonialism stance. 

Macron’s position in policy has been self-contradictory. Macron has spoken of free speech, but his actions and his policies have been criticized as contrary to free speech. In the op-ed by Marco Perolini, published in Newsweek, the murder of Samuel Paty was brought to the focal point. Perolini noted that Macron and his government responded to the murder of Paty by expressing their support of the freedom of expression. Paty was a French school teacher, beheaded by extremists for showing cartoons in his classroom that were part of a freedom of speech curriculum. The cartoons depicted the Prophet Mohammed, and extremists executed Paty for their belief that he had blasphemed their prophet. The op-ed accused Macron of using the grisly incident of the Paty killing for their own secular state apology, while also launching what the commentator called a “smear campaign” against French Muslims. The commentator went on to criticize several instances where France and its liberal “freedom of expression” campaign has clashed directly with the Muslim expression, as western secularism and eastern spirituality appear to struggle to coexist. 

The commentator said that Macron’s France was engaged in a double-standard for allowing police officers to question four 10-year-olds who voiced their support of Paty’s beheading, as was stated on ABC News. ABC News stated that the four children and their parents were detained for several hours on suspicion of terrorism sympathizing, as Macron, while pushing a heavily secular agenda and hard-leaning liberal politics, has also mustered a crackdown on Islamic extremism in his nation. This is a direct contrast of the values he has supported through his campaigning of laicite, even while France appears to pursue the crackdown on extremism for its national security, following multiple beheadings of locals. 

Yet, France has contradicted itself even in this. In September 2020, the United States State Department published a rebuke of France for its apparent stand with Tehran. Tehran is the financial enabler of many Islamic extremist movements, and so the United States saw this as a contradiction of western world security policy, citing statements by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. France contradicts its previous behavior regarding Iran by now cracking down on Muslims in its state. 

Previous contradictions earlier in the year were observed. Irina Tsukerman and Dr. Frank Musmar’s criticism of French policy was published in Foreign Policy News on September 9 regarding this contradiction as it related to the conflicts of interest in the French anti-Turkish alliance.

“France self-interest in North Africa motivated the French officials to join the alliance of Egypt, Greece, Cyprus, and UAE, especially after Turkey secured a foothold in Libya through backing the internationally recognized government in Tripoli against the Libyan National Army (LNA) of eastern commander Khalifa Haftar, who is supported by the alliances,” wrote Tsukerman and Musmar.  

“On May 13, 2020, Egypt announced an international alliance that includes Greece, Cyprus, the United Arab Emirates, and France to confront provocative Turkish moves in Libya and the Mediterranean. On June 17, 2020, a French defense ministry official accused the Turkish navy of harassing a French warship on a NATO mission and requested NATO to stop Turkey’s recent behavior towards its allies not just in Libya, but other issues such as Ankara buying Russian S-400 defense systems and blocking NATO defense planning for the Baltics and Poland.”

Contradiction and the potential for controversy

These contradictions, repeating themselves over 2020, have led now to a complex position where French self-interest also puts it at odds with the entire Muslim governed world. Despite this fact, France continues to exercise the presence of savior mentality in Islamic-influenced nations. As Islamic rhetoric toward France changes, this may create a complex geopolitical restructuring. One that is sown with the self-contradiction of the French leadership. Self-contradiction and self-ambition transpire at the same time, as France pursues its vision of a western presence in the eastern world. The drive to close that gap invites the potential for eventual inter-regional  as well as French domestic controversy. The world watches this controversy potential for the threat of ultimate conflcit as its ultimate outcome.