July 14th, 2017: The Start of a new Franco-American Military Era?
No other day on the French political calendar is more important than July 14th. This sacred date is colloquially referred to as the “14th of July” by the people of France; to the Anglophonic world, it is called “Bastille Day”.
The date marks a pivotal time in the French Revolution: the storming of the Parisian military fortress, la Bastille, by ordinary French citizens whom freed its prisoners and gathered arms to revolt against the monarchy.
In modern times, Bastille Day represents French liberty and the power of enlightenment thinking. As of July 14th, 2017, Bastille Day has taken on additional significance: a commitment to the Franco-American military alliance.
It is untraditional for foreign heads of state to be invited to Bastille Day, as the holiday is considered to be a celebration of French independence and national culture, thus making it an exclusively French affair. However, 2017 marked the centennial of America’s involvement in World War One, which offered an opportunity for the recently-elected French President Emmanuel Macron to invite the US President Donald Trump to partake in festivities.
The day entailed was an enormous military parade down the fabled Champs-Élysées. Accompanying the swathes of French helicopters, horses, and soldiers were American army personnel’s in honour of the centennial anniversary.
The Bastille Day parade, at a first glance, seemed to be nothing more than a standard military procession with the purpose of inflating national pride and morale. Now, one can postulate that there were ulterior motives on the side of the French President.
Throughout history, the military relationship between France and the United States has been one characterized by turbulence and disagreement. The French and Americans have always been “foul weather friends” – no matter how divergent their perspectives are, the two countries always stand together in times of hardship (i.e. World Wars One and Two).
The commitment to the Franco-American alliance has never been more tested than in 1966 when France left the NATO allied command under former President Charles De Gaulle, despite the protestations of the Americans and other world powers. De Gaulle, seeking to position France as an autonomous world power in the postwar era, distanced France from NATO and European military alliances to pursue self-sufficiency, primarily through the development of an independent nuclear program. In doing so, De Gaulle damaged Franco-American relations, but not to the point of complete deterioration.
The next time the two contemporary powers butted-heads was in 2003, disagreeing on whether a military invasion of Iraq was legally justified; despite UN opposition and the disapproval of French President Jacques Chirac, the United States invaded Iraq.
In 2017, the dynamic military alliance between the United States and France has seemingly transformed again. It is apparent that President Macron, through his expensive and imposing Bastille Day parade, was attempting to impress his American parallel.
The world is well-aware of Western Europe’s current fragmented status; as exemplified by events such as Britain’s exit from the European Union (Brexit), divergent opinions on the refugee crisis, economic strife in countries such as Greece and Italy, and questions as to what the best approach is to handle a resurgent Russia. Macron, at the expense of Britain and Germany, saw the opportunity to become America’s newfound military ally in Europe. On the one hand, Britain, having decided to leave the EU, is in a state of flux and is no longer the gateway to Europe. Germany, on the other hand, is consistently undermining the US by refusing to consider devaluing the Euro against the US Dollar. Thus, France is in the poll position to reignite the transatlantic military alliance. It will do so by increasing NATO spending.
It appears that Macron is more than willing to appease Trump, first by inviting him to the parade, then by pledging to increase France’s NATO contribution to meet Trump’s demand that every NATO member contribute two-percent of their respective GDPs to the NATO budget. France has also promised to increase military expenditures by $1.6 billion USD annually to meet Trump’s desired levels of contribution. By 2025, France will meet the two-percent GDP quota requested by Trump.
While Macron’s increase in defense spending cannot be overlooked, Trump’s invitation to the Bastille Day festivities is far more symbolic. In a day and age where everything is televised and readily accessible to the populaces, symbolism bears an all-important weight. Staring at our televisions, the world was able to look closely as the two leaders ogled their combined military might on show. We are witnessing the rapprochement of the Franco-American military alliance under the guise of the Bastille Day parade, except this time, the alliance has an aura of continuance about it.
The Franco-American military alliance has most definitely been reinvigorated. One must look no further than Trump’s post-Bastille Day comments to see this relationship become reignited: in a set of interviews after his time in France, Trump “raved” about the French military procession. He was so impressed by what he saw on the 14th of July that he is now considering an American parade of similar proportions on the 4th of July (American Independence Day).
From France’s newfound pledge to NATO to the most symbolic Bastille Day in modern memory, it is evident that the transatlantic landscape is changing. As indicated throughout this article, it appears that the transatlantic military alliance between North America and Western Europe has a new joint leadership: Trump’s America and Macron’s France