France and the United States Seek an Elusive Reconciliation

The French president is convinced that America’s overwhelming focus on China — as well as what he sees as American unreliability during the Trump administration and in the recent “sub snub” — obliges Europe to forge an independent path.

At the core of his vision lies what he calls “European strategic autonomy.” This, he argues, should lead the European Union to something like a middle course between two great powers of the 21st century, the United States and China, bound to America through values and long friendship, but engaging rather than confronting China.

“The key question for the E.U. is to become an independent power,” Bruno Le Maire, the finance minister who is close to Mr. Macron, said in an interview this month. “Independent from the United States, able to defend its own interests, whether the economic interest or the strategic interests, which means to be able to build more capacities on defense.”

The problem for France is that not every European nation agrees. Countries including Poland, Hungary, Denmark and to some degree Germany are deeply attached to the trans-Atlantic bond and wary of any strategic move that appears to weaken it. The European Union is also a long way from having anything resembling a united military.

During a meeting in Athens last month, General Burkhard said he told his American counterpart, Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that “it was in the interest of everyone to push for the idea of collective European defense.” He said that French officials believe that support from the United States is crucial to getting other European countries on board.

The likely American gestures toward France follow a flurry of meetings — including visits this month to Paris by both Antony J. Blinken, the secretary of state, and Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser — that appear to have gone some way toward soothing French pique without reconciling divergent strategic views, particularly on China. Vice President Kamala Harris will come to Paris next month.

France had been looking for three concrete American steps: help with the French counterterrorism fight in the area south of the Sahara known as the Sahel, support for European defense ambitions, and some gesture toward French strategic ambitions in the Indo-Pacific area of which the now aborted submarine deal was a core element.

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