Macron’s Warning To Europe Against Falling Into Thucydides Trap – OpEd


The famous British magazine The Economist cited French President Emmanuel Macron as a Jupetarian president thinking about his legacy.

World History Encyclopedia has termed Jupiter, the supreme god. He was Jupiter Elicius – one who brings forth. By the rise of the Republic, Jupiter’s identity as the greatest of all the gods was firmly established, but two members of the old triad were replaced with Juno (his sister and wife) and Minerva (his daughter). Jupiter’s most important title was Jupiter Optimus Maximus, meaning the Best and Greatest and signifying his role as father of the gods. Jupiter, however, had his detractors and challenges. After the death of Julius Ceaser, who at one time served as a flamen dialis or Jupiter’s personal priestly officer, Emperor Augustus’s followers initiated an imperial cult: the worship of the emperor as a god.

President Macron, writes The Economist, is adamant that, whoever is in the White House in 2025, Europe must shake off its decades-long military dependence on America and with it the head-in-the-sand reluctance to take hard power seriously. “My responsibility,” he says, “is never to put [America] in a strategic dilemma that would mean choosing between Europeans and [its] own interests in the face of China.” He calls for an “existential” debate to take place within months. 

Bringing in non-EU countries like Britain and Norway, this would create a new framework for European defense that puts less of a burden on America. Macron is willing to discuss extending the protection afforded by France’s nuclear weapons, which would dramatically break from Gaullist orthodoxy and transform France’s relations with the rest of Europe. 

Macron’s second theme is that an alarming industrial gap has opened up as Europe has fallen behind America and China. For Macron, this is part of a broader dependence in energy and technology, especially in renewables and artificial intelligence. Europe must respond now, or it may never catch up. He says the Americans “have stopped trying to get the Chinese to conform to the rules of international trade”. Calling the Inflation Reduction Act “a conceptual revolution”, he accuses America of being like China by subsidizing its critical industries. “You can’t carry on as if this isn’t happening,” he says.  Macron’s solution is more radical than simply asking for Europe to match American and Chinese subsidies and protection. He also wants a profound change to the way Europe works.  

But one wonders whether Emmanuel Macron’s call to Europe does not repeat Cassandra prophecy who was loved by the god Apollo and promised to  bestow upon her the gift of prophecy if she would comply with his desires. Cassandra accepted the proposal, received the gift, and then refused the god her favors. Apollo revenged himself by ordaining that her prophecies should never be believed. She accurately predicted such events as the fall of Troy and the death of Agamemnon but her warnings went unheeded. During the sack of Troy, Ajax the Lesser dragged Cassandra from the altar of Athena and raped her. For this impiety, Athena sent a storm that sank most of the Greek fleet as it returned home. In the distribution of the spoils after the capture of Troy, Cassandra fell to Agamemnon and was later murdered with him.

Leaving aside Greek mythology it would be useful to discuss current affairs. President Macron’s message to Europe relates to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the rise of China aspiring for a seat at the table that sets “rule based” world. which the real super power – the USA- has been the driving force for fifty years: setting rules to its advantage, more often than not breaking the so-called rules, dealing with Joseph Stalin, the division of defeated Germany, setting up the Nuremberg Trials, in short running the world as the US pleased till the rise of multipolar world when it is now forced to take along European powers as partners and also newly independent countries that gained freedom from British rule. 

The world today has become too complex, particularly with the rise of China which is now considered as the greatest enemy of the US depicted by both President Donald Trump and now the Biden administration. In a recent article in Foreign Affairs  (Matt Pottinger and Mike Gallagher. May/June 2024) affirmed that there can be no Substitute for Victory. America’s Competition With China Must Be Won, Not Managed. The authors added that amid a presidency beset by failures of deterrence—in Afghanistan, Ukraine, and the Middle East—the Biden administration’s China policy has stood out as a relative bright spot. The administration has strengthened U.S. alliances in Asia, restricted Chinese access to critical U.S. technologies, and endorsed the bipartisan mood for competition. Yet the administration is squandering these early gains by falling into a familiar trap: prioritizing a short-term thaw with China’s leaders at the expense of a long-term victory over their malevolent strategy. The Biden team’s policy of “managing competition” with Beijing risks emphasizing processes over outcomes, bilateral stability at the expense of global security, and diplomatic initiatives that aim for cooperation but generate only complacency. The United States shouldn’t manage the competition with China; it should win it. 

Beijing is pursuing a raft of global initiatives designed to disintegrate the West and Beijing usher in an antidemocratic order. It is underwriting expansionist dictatorships in Russia, Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela. It has more than doubled its nuclear arsenal since 2020 and is building up its conventional forces faster than any country has since World War II. These actions show that China isn’t aiming for a stalemate. Neither should America. The authors in the aforementioned article added that Washington will need to adopt rhetoric and policies that may feel uncomfortably confrontational but in fact are necessary to reestablish boundaries that Beijing and its acolytes are violating. That means imposing costs on Chinese leader Xi Jinping for his policy of fostering global chaos. It means speaking with candor about the ways China is hurting U.S. interests. It means rapidly increasing U.S. defense capabilities to achieve unmistakable qualitative advantages over Beijing. It means severing China’s access to Western technology and frustrating Xi-Jinping’s efforts to convert his country’s wealth into military power. And it means pursuing intensive diplomacy with Beijing only from a position of American strength, as perceived by both Washington and Beijing. 

No country should relish waging another cold war. Yet a cold war is already being waged against the United States by China’s leaders. Rather than denying the existence of this struggle, Washington should own it and win it. Lukewarm statements that pretend as if there is no cold war perversely court a hot war; they signal complacency to the American people and conciliation to Chinese leaders. Like the original Cold War, the new cold war will not be won through half measures or timid rhetoric. Victory requires openly admitting that a totalitarian regime that commits genocide, fuels conflict, and threatens war will never be a reliable partner. Like the discredited détente policies that Washington adopted in the 1970s to deal with the Soviet Union, the current approach will yield little cooperation from Chinese leaders while fortifying their conviction that they can destabilize the world with impunity. 

The duo added that Security Dialogue, bringing together the leaders of Australia, India, Japan, and the United States, and convened high-profile trilateral summits with the leaders of Japan and South Korea. Biden also unveiled AUKUS, a defense pact among Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. As it turned out, however, aggression would come from the opposite direction, in Europe. Less than three weeks before invading Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin had signed a “no limits” security pact with Xi-Jinping. 

Across Asia, Biden’s diplomats pulled longtime allies and newer partners closer together. They organized the first summits of the Quad, or Quadrilateral Jinping in Beijing. In a prudent step after the invasion, Biden drew a redline by warning Xi-Jinping in a video call that the U.S. government would impose sweeping sanctions if China provided “material support” to Moscow. Xi-Jinping nonetheless found plenty of ways to support the Russian war machine, sending semiconductors, unarmed drones, gunpowder, and other wares. China also supplied Moscow with badly needed money in exchange for major shipments of Russian oil.

Chinese officials, according to the U.S. State Department, even spent more money on pro-Russian propaganda worldwide than Russia itself was spending. Beijing was also coordinating more closely with Iran and North Korea, even as those regimes sent weapons to help Moscow wage war in Europe. Yet Washington was pursuing siloed policies—simultaneously resisting Russia, appeasing Iran, containing North Korea, and pursuing a mix of rivalry and engagement with China—that added up to something manifestly incoherent. Indeed, the situation that Xi had forecast at the start of the Biden administration was becoming a reality: “The most important characteristic of the world is, in a word, ‘chaos,’ and this trend appears likely to continue,” Xi-Jinping told a seminar of high-level Communist Party officials in January 2021. Xi-Jinping made clear that this was a useful development for China. “The times and trends are on our side,” he said, adding, “Overall, the opportunities outweigh the challenges.” 

By March 2023, Xi Jinping revealed that he saw himself not just as a beneficiary of worldwide turmoil, but also as one of its architects. “Right now, there are changes, the likes of which we haven’t seen for 100 years,” he said to Vladimir Putin on camera while wrapping up a visit to the Kremlin. “And we are the ones driving these changes together.”

The entire world would be well advised to listen to the implied threat that China-Russia “limitless” friendship carries and not let emerging powers to fall into the Thucydides Trap, reminding us of the perils inherent in power transitions between states. While history may not repeat itself exactly, the underlying dynamics highlighted by Thucydides remain relevant in understanding contemporary geopolitical challenges. By heeding these lessons, policymakers can strive to navigate power shifts with wisdom and foresight, ultimately working towards a more stable and peaceful international order.

Ambassador Kazi Anwarul Masud

Kazi Anwarul Masud is a former Secretary and ambassador of Bangladesh

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