With the new aircraft carrier, France is trying to strengthen military ties with the United States

The American allies in Europe want to show the incoming Biden administration that they have the means and courage for serious military action. The latest example: the revelation by French President Emmanuel Macron of plans for a new nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.

This month’s announcement of a replacement for the pilot ship Charles de Gaulle strengthens France’s position as the US’s most important strategic ally in the European Union since Britain left. Mr Macron also increases French military spending and urges neighbors to strengthen their armies rather than rely too heavily on the US

“It is a battleship, a symbol of power, a testament to our ability to act,” French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly said on Twitter.

“It is the voice of France in all the waters of the globe.”

Mr Macron says the US will only respect European allies if it strengthens its army. The new carrier, which is due to be in 2038, states “France’s willingness to maintain its strategic autonomy,” Mr Macron said in a December 8 speech announcing the new carrier to a nuclear component manufacturer.

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Some European officials, including Germany’s defense minister, have expressed doubts about Mr Macron’s promotion of European power, noting that Europe cannot defend itself without the US.

However, officials and analysts say the French attention to capabilities and action is being appreciated in Washington, even though Mr Macron’s comment last year that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is facing “brain death” has caused dismay.

“There are very few nations in the world that have this ability to project power,” said retired US Admiral James Foggo of the planned carrier. “France has everything we have, but on a smaller scale. They are a very valuable partner for us. “

President-elect Joe Biden says he wants to “deepen and revitalize” relations with European allies, which have suffered from trade measures and President Trump’s hectorization on issues, including weak military spending. In a call with NATO Secretary General last month, Mr Biden said he wanted to work with allies “to ensure that NATO has the strategic direction and capabilities it needs to strengthen deterrence and counter new and emerging threats.” “, Said his transition team.

In Germany, Europe’s largest economy and a country reluctant to use force because of its history, plans to increase military spending this month have suffered a setback. The Social Democratic Party, the junior partner of the ruling coalition, is blocking the country’s army from purchasing weapons for drones.

Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who supports drone arming, told parliament that German soldiers in Afghanistan’s Kunduz province told him how, during a missile attack, an unarmed drone identified the firing position, but that they were you have to wait and wait for US support.

“I’ve heard a lot in recent days about Europe’s strategic autonomy … that it needs to be debated and negotiated with Americans equally,” she said on December 9th. heaven to see when the air support of the Americans will finally arrive, they did not feel that we could act like America. “

The French relationship with the United States was close, but sometimes stormy since the treaty of 1778, which contributed to the defeat of the British. France left NATO’s integrated military command in 1966 and opposed the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. But France returned to NATO military structures in 2009, and the relationship has grown closer in recent years.

French soldiers take part in military exercises in Versailles, France, in October.


benoit tessier / Reuters

The United States has in recent years pressured allies to do more for European security, as Washington’s attention has shifted to China. This year, France will be one of only 10 NATO members, including the US, which will exceed the alliance’s spending target of 2% of gross domestic product. The French government plans to increase spending by 4.5% next year. France has led efforts in the Sahel region of Africa to fight Islamist militants, backed by US intelligence and logistics services.

“France’s robust position coincides with the American recognition that it cannot always be at the forefront and wants the Allies to share the burden,” said Alexandra de Hoop Scheffer, director of the Paris office of the German Marshall Fund in the United States. “France and the United States have a desire to project a power that is not shared with all European countries.”

Charles de Gaulle, who was commissioned in 2001, was a symbol of close cooperation with the United States, especially in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. In late 2015, Paris sent its flagship to lead the US naval team fighting the terrorist organization, the first time a foreign ship had such a role. On his return to the region the following year, retired Admiral Foggo, then commander of the sixth US fleet based in Naples, Italy, recalled sitting on the deck of the ship while warplanes made by France Rafale shouted for to hit Islamic State targets.

“It is very important for the alliance and for France,” said retired Foggo, now a distinguished colleague at the Center for European Policy Analysis, a think tank.

Charles de Gaulle uses a similar catapult system to launch planes, as do American carriers, which means their fighters can operate from each other’s decks. When Charles de Gaulle was in maintenance in 2018, the French pilots trained the carrier George HW Bush. In March, French and American fighters switched bridges between Dwight D. Eisenhower and Charles de Gaulle during training in the Mediterranean.

The new French aircraft carrier, currently unnamed, will be significantly larger than its predecessor. Stretching 300 meters or 984 feet, it will carry 30 fighter jets, either Rafale aircraft or their successors, currently in common development by France, Germany and Spain. The projected weight of 75,000 metric tons is heavier than any active carrier, except for the largest American ship, Gerald R. Ford. It will be equipped with a San Diego-based electromagnetic launch system from General Atomics, which means it will be able to handle American fighters in the same way as its predecessor. Like the Charles de Gaulle and US carriers, the new ship will be powered by nuclear power, reducing its dependence on fuel port visits.

Write to James Marson at [email protected]

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