Europe’s Sole Military Force: Giving France Respect Where it is Due

French commandos (photo; JJ.Chatard/DICOD)

French commandosIn Damascus, Tehran, Tripoli and even Washington, Paris is taken very seriously indeed.

France may be timid when it comes to economic reforms, but it is clear that the country remains a grand nation when it comes to foreign policy ambitions. Even advisors to US President Barack Obama describe French foreign policy as “bold”.

The country, for example, largely coordinated the deployment in Libya against ex-dictator Moammar Gadhafi. It has been prepared to take action in Syria. It has also shown itself to have a strong backbone in difficult nuclear negotiations with Iran. It deployed its troops in Mali to restore stability there. And it has provided indispensable help in the Central African Republic, where more than a million people are believed to have been displaced in a bloody sectarian war between Christians and Muslims.

At their meeting in Brussels on Monday, the EU foreign ministers agreed on military aid for the missions in Mali and the Central African Republic in what is an important and overdue decision. . . .

Still, European countries have become so apathetic about the bloc’s ultimate goal of a common foreign and security policy that they only added the term “strategic” to a foreign policy debate paper during the 11th hour of their last summit. Against that backdrop, there are plenty of critics of Paris in Brussels who also believe the country is doing a lot to preserve what little strategy is left in Europe’s security policy.

Britain Suffers Fatigue, Germany Dithers

It’s the larger member states that tend to be the most apathetic. Britain, suffering from war and Europe fatigue, is not only turning away from the Continent, but also from the rest of the world. Britain’s parliament even rejected the possibility of joining the US, its closest ally, in a possible mission against Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.

Germany, meanwhile, despite its economic power, continues to pretend it’s some kind of outsized version of neutral Switzerland. . . .

[I]t remains to be seen whether German involvement in Africa will go beyond that of pure logistical support. Germans as a whole are highly skeptical of foreign combat missions. But the world doesn’t stop turning just because the Germans — and Europeans in general — prefer naval gazing to action.