France and the Fraying of NATO

Photograph Source: Chairman of the Joint Chief – CC BY 2.0

Biden has infuriated France by arranging the agreement to provide nuclear-powered submarines to Australia. This replaces a contract to purchase a fleet of diesel-powered subs from France. Australia will have to pay penalties for breach of contract but the French capitalists will lose around 70 billion dollars. The perceived perfidy of both Canberra and Washington has caused Paris to compare Biden to Trump. The UK is third partner in the agreement so expect post-Brexit Franco-British relations to deteriorate further. This is all good, in my opinion!

It’s also a good thing that Biden’s withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan was poorly orchestrated with the lingering “coalition partners” such as Britain, French and Germany, producing angry criticism. It’s great that the British prime minister proposed to France a “Coalition of the Willing” to continue the fight in Afghanistan following the U.S. withdrawal—and better that it was dead in the water. (Maybe the French better than the Brits remember the Suez Crisis of 1956, the disastrous joint Anglo-French-Israeli effort to reimpose imperialist control over the canal. Not only did it lack U.S. participation; Eisenhower rationally shut it down after warnings from the Egyptians’ Soviet advisors.) It’s good that these three countries heeded the U.S. command to uphold their NATO promise to stand with the U.S. when attacked; that they lost over 600 troops in a fruitless effort; and that in the end the U.S. didn’t see fit to even involve them in the end plans. It’s good to wake up to the fact that the U.S. imperialists could care less about their input or their lives, but only demand their obedience and sacrifice.

It’s wonderful that Germany, despite obnoxious U.S. opposition, has maintained its involvement in the Nordstream II natural gas pipeline project along with Russia. The last three U.S. administrations have opposed the pipeline, claiming it weakens the NATO alliance and helps Russia (and urging purchase of more expensive U.S. energy sources instead—to enhance mutual security, don’t you see). The Cold War arguments have fallen on deaf ears. The pipeline was completed last month. Good for global free trade and for national sovereignty, and a significant European blow to U.S. hegemony.

It’s great that Trump in Aug. 2019 raised the ridiculous prospect of purchasing Greenland from Denmark, indifferent to the fact that Greenland is a self-governing entity, within the Kingdom of Denmark. (It is 90% Inuit, and led by political parties pressing for greater independence.) It’s marvelous that when the Danish prime minister gently, with good humor, refused his ignorant, insulting and racist proposal, he exploded in rage and canceled his state visit including state dinner with the queen. He offended not only the Danish state but popular opinion throughout Europe with his boorishness and colonial arrogance. Excellent.

Trump personally, needlessly insulted the prime minister of Canada and the chancellor of Germany with the same childish language he’d used against political opponents. He raised questions in Europeans’ and Canadians’ minds about the value of an alliance with such vileness. That was a major historical contribution.

Good also that, in Libya in 2011, Hillary Clinton working with the French and British leaders secured UN approval for a NATO mission to protect civilians in Libya. And that, when the U.S.-led mission exceeded the UN resolution and waged full-out war to topple the Libyan leader, enraging China and Russia who called out the lie, some NATO nations declined to participate or turned back in disgust. Another U.S. imperialist war based on lies creating disorder and flooding Europe with refugees. It was good only in the fact that it exposed once again the utter moral bankruptcy of the U.S.A. so widely now associated with images of Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and Guantanamo. All in the name of NATO.


Over the last two decades, with the Soviet Union and “communist threat” receding memories, the U.S. has systematically expanded this anti-Soviet, anti-communist postwar alliance called NATO to surround Russia. Any unprejudiced person looking at a map can understand Russia’s concern. Russia spends about a fifth of what the U.S. and NATO spend on military expenses. Russia is not a military threat to Europe or North America. So—the Russians have been asking since 1999, when Bill Clinton broke his predecessor’s promise to Gorbachev and resumed NATO expansion by adding Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia—why do you keep trying to expend to surround us?

Meanwhile more and more Europeans are doubting the leadership of the United States. That means doubting the purpose and value of NATO. Formed to confront an imaginary Soviet invasion of “western” Europe, it was never deployed in war during the Cold War. Its first war indeed was the Clintons’ war on Serbia in 1999. This conflict, which severed the Serbian historical heartland from Serbia to create the new (dysfunctional) state of Kosovo, has since been repudiated by participants Spain and Greece who note that the UN resolution authorizing a “humanitarian” mission in Serbia explicitly stated that the Serbian state remain undivided. Meantime (after the bogus “Rambouillet agreement” was signed) the French foreign minister complained that the U.S. was acting like a hyper-pouissance (“hyperpower” as opposed to mere superpower).

The future of NATO lies with the U.S., Germany, France and the UK. The last three were long members of the EU, which while a rival trading bloc generally coordinated policies with NATO. NATO has overlapped the EU such that virtually all of the countries admitted to the military alliance since 1989 have first joined NATO, then the EU. And within the EU—which is after all, a trading bloc that competes with North America—the UK long served as a kind of U.S. surrogate urging cooperation with Russian trade boycotts, etc. Now the U.K. has split from the EU, unavailable to, say, pressure Germany to avoid deals with the Russians Washington opposes. Good!

Germany has a number of reasons to want to increase trade with Russia and has now shown the will to stand up to the U.S. Germany and France both challenged George W. Bush’s Iraq war based on lies. We should not forget how Bush (promoted lately as a statesman by the Democrats!) rivaled his successor Trump as a vulgar, lying buffoon. And if Obama seemed a hero in contrast, his magnetism ebbed as Europeans learned that they were all being monitored by the National Security Agency, and that the calls of Angela Merkel and the Pope were bugged. This was the land of freedom and democracy, always boasting about liberating Europe from the Nazis and expecting eternal payoff in the form of bases and political deference.


It has been 76 years since the fall of Berlin (to the Soviets, as you know, not to the U.S.);

72 since the founding of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO);

32 since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the promise by George W. H. Bush to Gorbachev NOT to expand NATO further;

22 since the resumption of NATO expansion;

22 since the U.S.-NATO war on Serbia including the aerial bombing of Belgrade;

20 since NATO went to war at U.S. behest in Afghanistan, resulting in ruin and failure;

13 years since the U.S. recognized Kosovo as an independent country, and NATO announced the near-term admission of Ukraine and Georgia, resulting in the brief Russo-Georgia War and Russian recognition of the states of South Ossetia and Abkhazia;

10 years since the grotesque NATO mission to destroy and sew chaos in Libya, producing more terror throughout the Sahel and tribal and ethnic violence in the crumbling country, and producing more waves of refugees;

7 since the bold, bloody U.S.-backed putsch in Ukraine that placed a pro-NATO party in power, provoking the ongoing rebellion among ethnic Russians in the east and obliging Moscow to re-annex the Crimean Peninsula, inviting unprecedented ongoing U.S. sanctions and U.S. pressure on allies to comply;

5 since a malignant narcissist moron won the U.S. presidency and soon alienated allies by his pronouncements, insults, evident ignorance, a belligerent approach, raising questions in a billion minds about the mental stability and judgment of the voters of this country;

1 year since a career warmonger who has long vowed to expand and strengthen NATO, who became the Obama administration’s point man on Ukraine after the 2014 coup, his mission being to clean up corruption to prepare Ukraine for NATO membership (and who is the father of Hunter Biden who famously sat on the board of Ukraine’s leading gas company 2014-2017 making millions for no apparent reason or work done) became president.

1 year since the world saw repeatedly on TV the 9 minute video of an open, public police lynching on the streets of Minneapolis, surely many among the views wondering what right this racist nation has to lecture China or anyone on human rights.

9 months since the U.S. capitol was stormed by U.S. brown shirts brandishing Confederate flags and fascist symbols and calling for the hanging of Trump’s vice president for treason.

It is a long record of terrifying Europe with seemingly unstable leaders (Bush no less than Trump); harassing Europe with demands it minimizes trade with Russia and China and obey U.S. rules on Iran, and demanding participation in its imperialist wars far from the North Atlantic to Central Asia and Northern Africa.

It is also a record of provoking Russia while expanding the anti-Russian juggernaut. It has meant actually using NATO militarily (as in Serbia, Afghanistan, and Libya) to cement the military alliance under U.S. direction, the stationing of 4000 U.S. troops in Poland, and threatening flights in the Baltic. Meanwhile, multiple U.S. agencies work overtime to plot “color revolutions” in the counties bordering Russia: Belarus, Georgia, Ukraine.

NATO is dangerous and evil. It should be terminated. Opinion polls in Europe suggest a rise in NATO skepticism (good in itself) and opposition (better). It was already split seriously once: in 2002-2003 over the Iraq War. Indeed the manifest criminality of the Iraq War, the obvious willingness of the Americans to use disinformation, and the buffoonic personality of the U.S. president probably shocked Europe as much as the beastly Trump.

The amusing thing is that Biden and Blinken, Sullivan and Austin, all seem to think none of this happened. They really seem to think that the world respects the United States as the (natural?) leader of something called the Free World —of nations committed to “democracy.” Blinken tells us and Europeans we’re confronting, “autocracy” in the form of China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela all threatening us and our values. They seem think they can return to the 1950s, explain their moves as reflections of “American Exceptionalism,” posture as champions of “human rights,” cloak their interventions as “humanitarian missions,” and arm-twist their client-states into joint action. At present NATO is being pushed by Biden to identify (as it did in its last communique) the PRC as a “security threat” to Europe.

But the reference to China was controversial. And NATO is divided on the matter of China. Some states do not see much of a threat and have every reason to expand ties with China, especially with the advent of the Belt and Road projects. They know that China’s GDP will soon exceed that of the U.S. and that the U.S. is not the economic superpower it was after the war when it established its hegemony over most of Europe. It has lost much of its basic strength but, like the Spanish Empire in the eighteenth century, none of its arrogance and brutality.

Even after all the exposure. Even after all the shame. Biden flashing his trained smile announces “America is back!” expecting the world—especially “our allies”—to delight in the resumption of normalcy. But Biden should recall the stony silence that met Pence’s announcement at the Munich Security Conference in February 2019 when he conveyed Trump’s greetings. Do not these U.S. leaders not realize that in this century Europe’s GDP has come to match the U.S.’s? And that few people believe that the U.S. “saved” Europe from the Nazis, and then staved off the Soviet Communists, and revived Europe with the Marshall Plan, and continues to this day to protect Europe from the Russia that threatens to march west at any moment?

Blinken wants to pick up and move on and lead the world forward. Back to normal! Sound, reliable U.S.leadership is back!

Oh really? the French might ask. Stabbing a NATO ally in the back, sabotaging a signed $66 billion deal with far-off Australia? “Doing,” as the French foreign minister put it, “something Mr. Trump would do”? Not only France but the EU has denounced the U.S.-Australia deal. Some NATO members question how the Atlantic Alliance is served by a business dispute between members that pertains to what the Pentagon calls the “Indo-Pacific” region. And why—when the U.S. is attempting to secure NATO’s participation in a strategy of containing and provoking Beijing—it is not bothering to coordinate with France?

Is Blinken unaware that France is an imperialist country with vast holdings in the Pacific? Does he know about the French naval facilities at Papeete, Tahiti, or the army, navy and air force bases in New Caledonia? The French conducted their nuclear blasts at Mururora, for god’s sake. As an imperialist country, does not France have the same right as the U.S. to gang up on China with Australia, in France’s corner of the Pacific? And if its close ally the U.S. decides to undermine the deal, should not etiquette have dictated that it at least inform its “oldest ally” about its intentions?

The French condemnation of the submarines deal has been unprecedentedly sharp, in part, I imagine, due to the implicit disparagement of France as a great power. If the U.S. is urging its allies to join with it in confronting China, why does it not consult with France about an arms deal designed to do that, especially when it supplants one already openly negotiated by a NATO ally? Isn’t it clear that Biden’s appeals for “alliance unity” mean uniting, behind U.S. leadership around preparations for war on China?

Gradually NATO is fraying. Again, this is a very good thing. I had worried that Biden would quickly work to integrate Ukraine into the alliance, but Merkel seems to have told him no. Europeans don’t want to be dragged into another U.S. war, especially against their great neighbor whom they know much better than Americans and have every reason to befriend. France and Germany, who (recall) opposed the U.S. war-based-on-lies on Iraq in 2003, are finally losing patience with the alliance and wondering what membership means other than joining with the U.S. in its quarrels with Russia and China.

Gary Leupp is Emeritus Professor of History at Tufts University, and is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900 and coeditor of The Tokugawa World (Routledge, 2021). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: