As forces mass in Europe, the biggest stumbling block to Europe’s future strategic independence as well as American grand strategy is once again Germany. North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies Turkey and Greece are embroiled in a dispute over Turkish oil and gas exploration in the Mediterranean, and Greece is backed by the French navy. After the French military conducted training exercises with Greek forces in the region on Thursday, Turkey warned France to retreat. Within a day, three things happened in rapid succession.
First, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo signed a treaty to relocate troops out of Germany to Poland, quietly diminishing Germany’s role in Euro-security. Berlin threw a tantrum about French “unilateralism,” which could be interpreted as a support for Turkey. This response comes as French naval forces stare down a Turkish flotilla violating Greek maritime sovereignty in order to drill oil. Meanwhile, after re-converting the Hagia Sophia into a mosque, Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan provided a Hamas terrorist political asylum, intervened in Libya and Syria, accused France of neo-colonialism, and called Paris a bully.
The current German posturing is baffling. Both Greece and France are members of the European Union, while Turkey is not. As the only EU nuclear power in the European continent, France has the military power to back its words. Germany is not as fortunate. Furthermore, Greece prefers France as a great power ally and hasn’t forgotten what Germany did during the debt crisis.
Greece, France, and Egypt are status quo powers trying to formulate a natural equilibrium against the increasingly hostile Turkish expansionism. With Germany content lecturing everyone on greater EU responsibility through diplomatic means, they are simultaneously sabotaging France’s effort to shoulder a greater military burden.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The fundamental American (and formerly British) interest in the European continent was to maintain a delicate balance while ensuring there is no single overarching power in the continental mainland. This strategy, in international relations terminology, is called “offshore balancing.” Every modern American administration has tried to make Europeans shoulder more of the security burden, a position that was untenable immediately after World War II, but that is very much possible in the current geopolitical climate.
For American strategists, it should be considered a gift from heaven that France, one of America’s oldest allies, is now volunteering to shoulder additional security burdens. After all, American foreign policy players have many more pressing issues to worry about, a rising China most of all.
Holding American retrenchment hostage is German paranoia about losing European leadership to France. The fact that Germany has a strong Turkish diaspora weighs heavily in the strategic circles of Berlin. In the final analysis, that shouldn’t matter to either Britain or the United States — it’s an internal German problem to solve.
Currently, the Eastern Mediterranean is one of the hyper-tense locations on the planet, aided and abetted by the fact that Turkey has been allowed to repeatedly betray players in the region. Yet for the first time in a long time, from Egypt in Libya, and France and Greece in the Aegean, the Turks are facing a concerted pushback. Germany’s effort to stop that only likely means one of two alternatives: either Turkey is given the “green light” to do whatever it wants in the Aegean, or Washington and London become bogged down in a region that is more in Berlin and Paris’s interest than in Anglo-Americans’.
So far, it appears French President Emmanuel Macron and President Trump are acting at least rhetorically in concert. According to a White House spokesman, both leaders “expressed concern over increased tension between NATO allies Greece and Turkey” during a call on Friday. But that is not enough.
It’s time to actively throw U.S. diplomatic support behind France and show meaningful encouragement for an ally that is taking proactive steps to shoulder further military and security responsibility. Most importantly, such a move would balance Turkish expansionism in Eastern Europe.
For years now, Erdoğan has manipulated Western insecurity and disunity. If, however, Turkey found itself isolated against France, Greece, and Egypt backed at least diplomatically by the United States, it would realize that choices have consequences. Joint Egyptian-French control of Libya will seal off the north African coast, the platform of a million migrants heading to Europe, and might force the secular officers of the Turkish military to understand that they are inches away from losing Anglo-American patronage.
As for Turkish help in the Black Sea, British and American bases in Cyprus and French basing rights in Greece guarantee a long-distance force projection capability. With diminishing involvement in the Middle East, Turkey will soon need the West more than the West needs Erdoğan’s regime.
Finally, supporting France would teach a lesson to Germany and the EU. A Greece-France-Egypt axis to share the security burden in the Mediterranean and balance Turkish expansionism is a rare strategic opportunity that Washington shouldn’t pass up.