Let’s say it out loud, coldly, but it is how it is. The frantic flight of the French from Algeria had been far more atrocious than these moments of horror in Kabul. In Saigon, the United States was losing the battle to the Communist bloc, and attacks like those of Thursday have been beyond count since September 11. There is nothing really new in Kabul except that the world suddenly sees there what it already knew without having wanted to realize it.

Everyone knew that the days of American omnipotence had come to an end, that they had probably been an illusion, and that in light of the Chinese challenge, everything now seemed secondary to the United States. We have known this since Barack Obama closed his eyes to the crimes of Bashar al-Assad. It was hard not to hear it in Donald Trump’s “America first!” but “that was Trump”, we wanted to tell ourselves, whereas here it is an old hand in world affairs, Joe Biden, a man trained in the Cold War, who is officially putting an end to the American century by abandoning Afghanistan to the obscurantism of the Taliban and the jihadism of Daesh.

So yes, faced with these crowds in Kabul torn apart by bombs and ravaged by despair, faced with the determination with which the world’s leading power is withdrawing from a country it had claimed to rebuild for twenty years, the world is taken aback because it cannot fail to hear the message this moment is sending.

Rethinking power relations

Good or bad, there are no more policemen. There is no longer an umbrella, no longer assured protection, no longer alliances made of concrete, but an America that is turning away from the world to turn in on itself, investing heavily in its modernization, saving the dollars and men it will need to not give up the number one spot to China, and leaving Europe, Africa and the Middle East to the uncertainty of balances and relations of power that need to be completely rethought.

So let’s wake up!

Instead of wasting our time arguing about the reception of Afghan refugees, let us Europeans ask ourselves if we are really sure of how the United States would react if Vladimir Putin marched on Kiev or annexed Eastern Ukraine in the hope of regaining his popularity.

Let’s ask ourselves and we’ll have to admit that we are not sure of anything after George Bush went AWOL in 2008 when Russia invaded Georgia, Barack Obama stood by in 2013 in the face of the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons, and Joe Biden is now braving national humiliation to pull out of Kabul at all costs.

However, what we know, Vladimir Putin knows also.

Let’s face reality

The Kremlin has now basis to think that there would be no American reaction either if it engaged its mercenaries in the Balkans, manifested itself even more in the Baltic zone, in Libya and in sub-Saharan Africa, or made a common front, tomorrow, with the Algerian generals as it did with the butcher of Damascus.

All these hypotheses are foreseeable, and what could we do then?

Nothing. We could do nothing or almost nothing because the only real army left in the European Union is that of France and it is already present on too many fronts.

This means that there is no more time for disarray, not a second to lose.

In four months, France will take over the presidency of the Union, but it is now that it must sound the alarm, fuel the debate and mobilize our partners. It must tell them: let’s wake up before we find ourselves naked in front of the Russian, Chinese or even Turkish dictatorships. It must hammer home: before having to relearn that impotence is subjection, before having to see the American cavalry coming to Europe’s rescue a third time, let us face the realities of this century and not allow anyone to say that the European Union could not have a Defence.

It can have one because it must have one.

It can have one because it would obviously not be a question of merging twenty-seven armies with different political traditions and historical cultures into one, but of developing the weapons of the future together and preparing ourselves for the new battles, whether in space or in the digital realm.

Make Europe a strategic player

It can have one because Donald Trump broke the taboo that had been the Common Defence for so long, when he declared that before going to defend the Europeans, the United States should make sure that the Europeans were on track with their financial contributions to NATO.

It can have one because Joe Biden has now made clear to the 27 what they had not yet really admitted to themselves.

The Union can have a Common Defence because it would only have to accelerate an evolution that has been underway for six years, and the Union must do so because if its capitals remained incapable of building up a real Defence, the United States would have no reason to come to the rescue of such allies.

Let us wake up, France must say, because facing China, the Americans could one day prefer a strong Russia to a non-existent Union, it could prefer to handle the Kremlin carefully and get along with it rather than die for Tbilisi, Vilnius or Kiev.

“Let’s exist”, Emmanuel Macron must say to the 26 other member states, because we need the Atlantic Alliance more than ever and the only real way to perpetuate it is to make Europe a strategic player. Let us wake up, he must tell them, because as surely as the 20th century opened on June 14 in Sarajevo, it is in Kabul, on August 21, that the 21st century began.

Tribune parue dans “Le Monde” le 30 août 2021


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