BY AURELIO POLES.
The globalized world as it is known today tends more and more to be assumed as an obvious, irreversible reality. However, it is the far from obvious product of the security architecture shaped by the United States following the Second World War. An exceptional situation in the history of humanity, the American global order has had the extraordinary effect of upsetting the rules that inform the dynamics of power between geopolitical subjects. Those who were incorporated into the order, in exchange for strategic submission to the hegemon, were in fact able to receive everything that traditional Empires had always fought for. All members of the system, whether they were old Empires, second-rate powers or even ex-colonies, were granted free access to all the navigation routes of the system and therefore to all markets and all related resources. This made it possible to access the advantages of a global imperial system without having to bear the costs of maintaining it. For the first time in history, it was no longer necessary to fight for prosperity and security. The paradigm shift, of course, has had the effect of suspending a whole series of geopolitical frictions normally considered structural. Having remained dormant for decades, these are nevertheless destined to rekindle in the event of an eventual American withdrawal from the role of guarantor of the system. This possibility, now closer than ever, threatens European countries, fearing the possibility of an abrupt return to history. But alluring Paris, which has always refused to conform to the system in order to pursue an independent strategy, however unrealistic. If the rules of the game were to change again, the Hexagon would find itself, for the first time since Napoleon’s time, in a position of potential continental hegemony. Enjoying an unprecedented position of strength against the historic German rival. The why in six points.
French hegemony in six brief points
First point: economy. France has never fully enjoyed the advantages offered by the US order by choosing to reject the model based on supply-side economics and laissez-faire, which is best suited to a globalized economy. Paris has instead opted to keep much of its production within national borders, jealously protecting the domestic market and paying particular attention to sectors of strategic importance. Even today, the French model is characterized by its distinctly managerial character, that is, the ability of the State to intervene in the market in order to defend and support its national champions, allowing them to compete with major international players and expand their activities to the ‘abroad. This also tended to discourage the development of that type of internationalized value chains prevalent in Germany and China, with the effect of reducing the country’s exposure to the risk of their interruption. Within the US order, the French model was, all in all, rather inefficient. At least if compared with the German one, in which instead a conversion was carried out aimed at taking full advantage of globalization (economy driven by exports, ease in accessing credit through an internationalized financial market and above all refusal of any responsibility of a security nature). Under American order, Berlin flourished while Paris stagnated. Without it, however, the French model would not only be able to avoid collapse, but to function with discrete efficiency and to place France in a condition of relative superiority on the continent.
Second point: demographics. The demographic structure of France represents another very important strength of the transalpine nation. Unlike its European counterparts, and especially in Germany, Paris has been able to maintain a fair level of fertility in its population, both thanks to the contribution of immigration, a direct legacy of the Empire, and thanks to a series of prudent public policies of family support. The result is that, today, the French demographic pyramid is the healthiest and most sustainable on the continent. In fact, not only has the population increased, but above all it has been able to keep itself young, with immense advantages for the future of the country. In fact, the latter did not limit themselves to the possibility of supporting the welfare state through a substantial active population, or to the more obvious but still decisive one of having a greater number of military personnel in the event of a conflict. Active workers and young people waiting to enter the world of work in fact represent the preponderant component of consumption in a given economy, and their massive presence, as in the case of France. if, it implies the possibility of fueling internal demand. This leads to greater economic independence from international markets, unlike the case of Germany, whose aging nature desperately pushes the search for outlet markets for its domestic production. The robust domestic demand will therefore not only make it possible for the French economy to remain stable in a context of progressive deglobalization, but could even allow it to exercise the role of buyer of last resort within a possible sphere of influence, thus guaranteeing the own selected satellites an outlet market for their manufacturing production.
Third point: military capabilities. France is still today the only continental nation equipped with an atomic deterrent. Here too the detachment with Berlin is evident. In general, France has the most important European army and the most important navy on the continent. Furthermore, the projection capacity of these is not relegated to the sphere of the possible, but is indeed corroborated in practice by a whole series of operations that keep active and increase the experience of the French personnel, punctually engaged in the Sahel region as well as in the Horn of Africa. The maintenance of overseas territories, distributed in all three oceans, then gives the French navy a virtually global projection.
Fourth point: energy security. The French energy basket is not ideal, but, even in this case, capable of placing Paris in a position of relative superiority over its European rivals and Germany. In fact, not only has the search for strategic autonomy led the Hexagon to focus on the production of nuclear energy, which today satisfies more than 40% of internal needs (and whose contribution is destined to increase). In fact, France, by virtue of its Atlantic-Mediterranean geographic projection, its proven military capabilities and its historical presence in the region of equatorial Africa, is in an advantageous position in the event of an interruption of supplies from Russia or the region. of the Gulf. This would mean being able to access, in a more or less violent way, the enormous energy resources of the African countries of the Atlantic coast. Conversely, Germany, reluctant to use nuclear power and dependent on supply lines it is unable to defend, would find itself at the mercy of events in the chaotic context of a deglobalized world. Dependent on the benevolence of the neighbor across the Rhine.
Fifth point: human factor. The centralism of the transalpine state and the assimilating character of French nationalism guarantee Paris a further strategic advantage, namely the great anthropological homogeneity of its population. In times of widespread prosperity, economic well-being acts as a social bonding and pacifier in the context of a modern state. However, when difficulties arise, the degree of anthropological homogeneity constitutes the decisive factor in guaranteeing the stability of the state and compacting the internal ranks in the name of a higher good. In this sense, France is ready to face the challenges of a de-globalized, more competitive and violent way, also thanks to a younger population, therefore more prone to sacrifice. In this context, the confrontation with Germany is merciless: the post-historical vocation of the German population, elderly and refractory to violence, is placed in the political-institutional framework of the Federal Republic of Germany, that is a decentralized state divided by profound identity differences and therefore perpetually a risk of undergoing the pressure of centrifugal forces. Worthy of mention is also the case of the United Kingdom, the historic rival of the French Alps, now a victim of nationalisms rising internally (first of all the English one). Internal fragilities condemn to introflexion, if not to collapse: in this sense France can enjoy a high degree of internal stability, essential for projecting its interests in the international arena. On a side note: in fact, the serious unknown concerning ethno-religious enclaves remains which, in their social exclusion and economic marginality, cast a shadow on the stability of the nation. Already today an expression of a concrete internal threat through the risk of terrorism, the Muslim population not integrated into the French social fabric represents a potential criticality in moments of possible geopolitical stress.
Sixth point: strategic posture. The greatest advantage of the Hexagon consists in its strategic maturity, a consequence of both the outcomes of the Second World War and the traditional sense of Grandeur intrinsic to the French nation. There is no need to spend many words in this sense: all the points listed above are in fact a plastic expression of the fact that Paris, unlike Berlin, maintained awareness of its geopolitical interests in the years following World War II. While Germany, based on a clever design by Washington, was confiscated in a position of minimalism – even pacifism – France, on the other hand, was able to maintain a strategic culture and a strong sense of national interest. The country’s institutional architecture, with a strong executive role, allows for the ability to react quickly. The maintenance of an informal empire, la Françafrique, guarantees strategic depth, privileged access to markets and raw materials, as well as a tool for the practice and maintenance of the army traditionally engaged in the region. Even the posture taken in the European context, albeit with a general failure, certifies the maintenance of a national interest: the European Union is in fact conceived by Paris as an instrument, a sounding board, and not an end in itself. The unrealistic attempt to avoid the influence of the American hegemon through the exit of NATO in the second half of the twentieth century certifies to the highest degree the strategic autonomy that has always longed for in Paris. In the moment of a more or less partial withdrawal of Washington, France would therefore have the tools to reap the advantages deriving from the change of paradigm. The awakening of Germany, on the other hand, would be extremely painful.
Today we are facing a phase of disengagement from Washington in the task of maintaining the global order erected following the Second World War. How long this phase will last, and to what extent this disengagement will increase, is subject to uncertainty. Much will depend on the internal troubles experienced by the stars and stripes giant. On the other hand, what is certain is that the greater this degree of disengagement, the greater the space for autonomous maneuver left to other geopolitical subjects. In this context, France, as we have seen, is in a position of enormous advantage in the European context, both for the strengths of its model, relatively independent from the American order, and for the shortcomings of its historical strategic rival, namely Germany.
In this context, Italy should take note of the rapid changes in structure on the continent: recognizing the position of relative advantage enjoyed by Paris is imperative. This is because Italy, in some ways in analogy with Germany, is destined to suffer enormously in the scenario of some sort of deglobalization. Rome could offer itself as a junior partner of Paris, thus alleviating a structural weakness of French geopolitics, namely exposure on several fronts: Mediterranean, Atlantic and continental. In this sense, Italy could contract out a series of security tasks in the Mediterranean basin, thus relieving Paris of part of its burdens. In exchange, Rome could enjoy the geopolitical income that rightfully derives from any good ally, with the possibility of access to the French market (extended to the informal Empire) and extension of the security umbrella. Playing as a mediator in the confrontation between France and Germany would also allow Italy to increase its negotiating weight in order to assume greater importance in the eyes of the Hexagon. What is certain is that, in every possible scenario, the relaunch of the Italian strategy arises precisely from the recovery of that geopolitical awareness that the beautiful country has lost. Also in this case, an approach to the transalpine cousins could only help.
Original published in Italian at Osservatorio Globalizzazione.