French Sovereignty and Western Solidarity in the Face of the Moscow-Tehran-Beijing Axis

In a world where points of equilibrium are slipping away, commercial globalization is being overshadowed by warlike globalization, with rivalries now dictating the conditions of power plays. A sign of the times, the word “sovereignty” is bandied about in all spheres of human activity to the point of being meaningless. French political life and recent European elections testify to this. A leitmotif of impotence? Invoking the goddess “sovereignty” will not be enough. The concrete exercise of sovereignty requires a number of conditions, including a clear understanding of the issues of the era.

If there is one domain where the word “sovereignty” does have meaning, it is indeed in the defense of nations’ geostrategy and the geopolitics of the large entities to which they belong. Therefore, sovereignty cannot be reduced to a lazy concept of public law, even less to an expectation like “European sovereignty.” A phenomenon of force and power, sovereignty is the attribute of political command. It implies the existence of a unit of power, i.e., a fully-fledged geostrategic actor in law and in fact. Mere international recognition of a state and its participation in multilateral forums is not enough to ensure the concrete exercise of sovereignty in the eminent sense of the term. It is in times of great trials, in situations of distress, that sovereignty reveals itself. When the law is silent or international legal regimes prove powerless, the exceptional nature of the situation requires a political decision. Then the question of sovereignty arises: “Sovereign is the person who decides in the exception,”explains Julien Freund, a theorist of the essence of politics1. One must be prepared for this great trial materially, morally, and spiritually.

However, the state is threatened with submersion by society, the demands of individuals on the domestic front (“Everyone for themselves, the state for all”), and the era of emptiness more generally. In short, the Hegelian distinction between civil society and political society is fading. On the contrary, it is crucial that the state should stand above civil society, equipped with instruments of power, and that minds are not “provincialized.” Those aspiring to govern must be aware that the dawn of universal history has risen. The perils of the present times and the decisive years ahead demand a lofty and assertive conception of sovereignty, not a counterfeit, but the kind of sovereignty, which the ancient Romans called “majestas” or “summum imperium.”

Conditions for Full Sovereignty

To exercise acts of sovereignty, the national state or another type of political unit (an “empire-civilization,” for example) must be “equipped” — an inelegant term favored by French diplomats and military personnel. In this instance, France must be a “true state” with a diplomatic and military apparatus commensurate with its international status (a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and a nuclear strike force), a power apparatus in line with its ambitions on the world stage. This should go without saying, but it does not appear evident. Admittedly, France remains a first-rate military power, but maintaining a degree of strategic autonomy and insisting on nuclear state status should not mask the strong contraction of the military system, especially when a high-intensity war (a “real war” in a sense), like the one Russia is waging against Ukraine, highlights the importance of volume, mass, and personnel. Indeed, France now resembles a “mini superpower” (a “strategic bonsai” as some critics put it), much more dependent in reality than the rhetoric on the “rock,” “balancing power” (is France “elsewhere”?), or the “leading European military power” suggests. Let us stop deluding ourselves.

Signing of Phase 1A of the Future Tank Program // Ministry of the Armed Forces

Due to a greater German military effort, the hardening of the Ukrainian army, and the growing importance of Poland2, it is possible that France will experience a strategic downgrade in Europe, with reduced political, diplomatic, and military weight in Europe and within Western alliances, especially as economic and financial bases, already fragile, are seriously threatened by extravagant electoral programs, the dissolution of the National Assembly on June 9 leading to a demagogic escalation. The war in Ukraine and Russia-Eurasia’s geopolitical ambitions on the European continent demand that far more means and money be dedicated to military matters. Thus, it is easy to prattle about the dangers of the world and invoke the goddess “sovereignty,” but intentions will be judged by capacities and budgets (“No pain, no gain”). It is not about displaying voluntarism while ignoring the constraints that weigh on action. It must be acknowledged that the expansion of the public sphere and all-out interventionism, in line with a number of degenerations (narcissistic individualism and moral disintegration), have caused great confusion between state and society: public power should serve everyone’s whims and desires. On the contrary, a lofty conception of sovereignty will allow distinguishing between what pertains to regalian functions on the one hand and personal responsibility and the private sphere on the other.

Since the welfare state has devoured the regalian state, the question of means to be devoted to the armed forces, a precondition for full sovereignty, is particularly critical. It is essential to be aware of the state of public finances, as dilapidated as if we had emerged from a great war. This situation, more than a rampant Europeanism or a “shameful federalism” (because not assumed), explains why French governments rely on new common European loans to finance the indispensable military and technological effort required by trials, threats, and destabilization maneuvers at the limits and borders of Europe, even on the territory of euro-Atlantic bodies’ member states (European Union and NATO). Surely, the European Defense Fund and the European Peace Facility, used to finance military-industrial support for Ukraine, are precious instruments that must be fully utilized; a number of essential military expenditures for Europe’s defense must be mutualized. Nevertheless, a state as fiscally burdensome and spendthrift as France should not be forced to turn to such common funding to hope to maintain its military rank and weigh decisively in European affairs. Yet very few French political forces truly care. Most of President Emmanuel Macron’s critics have embraced the “whatever it costs” approach, an attitude fundamentally different from a clear understanding of what sovereignty is3.

Launch of permanent structured cooperation, European Council of 15 December 2017 // Etienne Ansotte — European Communities

Sovereignty, Europe, and Atlanticism

At the European level, the primacy long accorded to the “Franco-German couple,” a French expression with no equivalent in German, is a sign of cognitive dissonance, i.e., a gap between the world and national representations, even the manifestation of psychopolitical regression4. For over a generation, Europe has pivoted on its hinges; the collapse of the East-West system, of the first Cold War at least, allowed the reconnection between the Atlantic fringes of Europe and its continental hinterland (Milan Kundera’s “kidnapped West”). Therefore, it is an Atlantic-to-Don- Basin Europe (the true geohistorical frontier of our continent) that needs to be thought about and organized, with a reunified Germany now in a central position at the continental level. In such a spatial entity, there can be no question of subordinating a “small Germany” (like West Germany before 1990) to the expectations of Paris and establishing a Pax Gallica that would cover Western Europe. In the 1960s, De Gaulle already failed to lead such a project because it did not correspond to the historical situation. Today, even less can we consider melting the sovereignties of various European states into a politically integrated entity under France’s direction, simply because no one wants it: the European Union has not reached what French philosopher Pierre Manent calls the “Ciceronian moment,” i.e., the tipping point from one political form to another. And geopolitical dynamics do not point in that direction (see the rise of nationalist and populist forces). The challenge is to combine the sovereignties of the main member states, promoting synergies to act together when the situation requires it: a pan-European confederation supported by an Atlantic pillar (NATO). At most, the expression “European sovereignty” constitutes a metaphor for a capacity for collective action. This is how the Germans understand it. The expansion of geographic scales requires French leaders to look beyond Germany alone. The idea is to think continentally, from the British archipelago to the isthmus running from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Indeed, after six years of underestimating the Russian threat and misunderstanding what drives the Kremlin’s leader, Emmanuel Macron has finally grasped the importance of an active and assertive French policy in Ukraine and on the eastern fringes of Europe5 (see the Bratislava speech on May 31, 2023). What a waste of time! Unfortunately, the dissolution of the National Assembly and its consequences compromise this salutary political-strategic reorientation.

Therefore, much more attention and importance should be given to Poland, a friendly nation too often underestimated in practice, which is poised to weigh heavily in Euro-Atlantic balances6. Even more so if a sort of “Poland-Ukraine union”7 — possible, conceivable, and desirable within a Euro-Atlantic framework — takes shape and gives substance to what was called in the interwar period the “Eastern barrier.” In other words: the disproportionate hopes invested in the “Franco-German couple” and the resulting disappointments should not lead to a kind of enantiodromia (a “course in the opposite direction”), i.e., an move contrary to that initially sought. It is not about insinuating that we are in conflict with Germany (a recurring sovereignist discourse), singing the song of the Noailles dragons (an anti-German military song)8, and forming a reverse alliance like the “Little Entente” in the interwar period. The great pan-European strategic challenge — it should be obvious — is to contain Russian territorial expansionism, which manifested itself again on February 24, 2022, and to stabilize geopolitical Europe by strengthening existing alliances with directly threatened nations most capable of making necessary efforts, from Northern Europe (recall Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership) to the Eastern Mediterranean.

In truth, France’s role, power, and ability to influence world events rest notably on its alliance with the United Kingdom, a power significantly neglected since Brexit — both sides are at fault, with old Anglophobia mirrored by some Gallophobia across the Channel9 — as well as with the United States, where public opinion is influenced by the idea of an illusory “great retreat” (nothing is decided yet). This does not go without frustrations and annoyances exploited by pro-Russian factions, but the same happened in all past alliances. One should read Albert Sorel’s diplomatic history, a forgotten author in France but considered a master of “applied history” by American diplomats. At any rate, the destinies of the three main Western powers have been closely linked since the early 20th Century, understood by Clemenceau and his close collaborator André Tardieu during the First World War: there could be no restoration of the old “European togetherness” destroyed in 1914; security had to be organized at the transatlantic level. Thus, “Atlanticism” took shape. France, the United States, and the United Kingdom currently combine their sovereignty within the UN Security Council (these three powers form the “P3”). Despite the French nuclear mystique, they are closely allied in this regard and cooperate more deeply than commonly perceived. Finally, these three powers run the Atlantic Alliance, with French and British nuclear forces contributing to NATO’s global deterrence10 (see the 1974 Ottawa Declaration). Generally, over time, an “Atlantic world” has emerged, giving life to a great alliance of Atlantic nations. This alliance confers a geopolitical form on the West: it is important to maintain, renew, and expand it11.

Operation Durandal on May 22: a Rafale has just conducted the first in-flight test firing of a renovated ASMPA supersonic nuclear missile // Account X of Sébastien Lecornu

From the Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific

Overseas, it is also the “greater Mediterranean” of historian Fernand Braudel and geographer Yves Lacoste. From North Africa to the Levant, to the Arabian-Persian Gulf, France must hold its rank, relying on its regional allies, including Morocco and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Israel. In short, the strategic axis promoted by the Abraham Accords, which the Gaza war has not definitively destroyed12. Against the Iranian-Shiite regime, the “Middle Eastern link” of revisionist powers (the Moscow-Tehran-Beijing axis extended by Pyongyang)13. Beyond the maritime approaches to the metropolitan territory between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, considerations on the sea and naval power lead to the “open sea” in the sense Churchill gave to this phrase. In fact and in law, French sovereignty must be thought of on a global scale; the existence of overseas territories and the possession of the second-largest maritime domain in the world exclude limiting reflection to the European continent. French sovereignty is that of the “greater France,” present on all the world’s seas14. A large part of these territories and the maritime domain is located in the Pacific, this “Great Ocean” where new balances of power and wealth are being developed. The “greater France” is also present in the Indian Ocean, where significant energy and commercial flows pass between Europe, the Persian Gulf, South, and East Asia. In short, France is comparable to an “amphibious power,” which puts into perspective the stakes of a second aircraft carrier, an indispensable tool of power to assume the totality of its global ambitions and responsibilities. Therefore, it is crucial to realize that France’s defense and prosperity begin offshore, well beyond”Europe with its ancient parapets,” to quote Rimbaud.

Thus, the aircraft carrier and its escort, a criterion of power and an unmatched means of action, cannot be overemphasized. The constant deployment of a naval air group ensures the political authority’s ability to act without being dependent on the diplomatic and logistical constraints that condition movement in foreign airspaces and action from ground bases (an aircraft carrier is a sovereign mobile base). The presence of an aircraft carrier taskforce in a part of the world allows displaying its political ambition and determination to play a decisive role within alliances, to weigh in international consultations, and in grand world politics. Powerful, mobile, and autonomous, less vulnerable than a fixed installation, the aircraft carrier taskforce is capable of three military uses. Two uses in land attack: its firepower ensures “first entry” before a ground air base is established at theater level (which can take months); then, the aircraft carrier taskforce can reinforce the ground maneuver without increasing the footprint. Finally, the third use concerns maritime domain control: deploying an aircraft carrier taskforce is decisive in countering the enemy’s fleet; the embarked aviation provides intelligence and strike range that surpasses the adversary. In short, the aircraft carrier with its escort (the aircraft carrier taskforce) is a tool of political power, naval supremacy, and air superiority that ensures the nation possessing it will be a participant in conflict resolution and will have the means to impose its will. It is a question of sovereignty in the most existential sense15.

At the global level, French sovereignty and its military extension in terms of naval and maritime power must be asserted in the vast Indo-Pacific area, which will require additional means and a firm alliance policy. On this point, the vacillations regarding France’s and Europe’s relationship with the People’s Republic of China have blurred the overall picture. In fact, the AUKUS pact was negotiated while Paris, rhetorically, presented itself as a peacemaker between the Chinese and Americans to lead an illusory third way16. On the sidelines of the Atlantic summit in Brussels (June 14, 2021), Emmanuel Macron posed as an opponent of NATO’s “China turn”; the French president then worked to slow this redeployment. The threat posed by Chinese globalization is not limited to a distant “Asia-Pacific.” On the one hand, the issues covered by the law of the sea and the principle of free navigation in the “Asian Mediterranean” (the South and East China Seas) and the Indo-Pacific are concrete: two-fifths of trade between Europe and Asia transit through the South China Sea, and a potential Chinese attack on Taiwan would have repercussions in Europe. On the other hand, the People’s Republic of China projects power and influence in Europe’s geographical environment from the Arctic to the Mediterranean. Given the stakes, the West must stand united in the Indo-Pacific. This requires a bolder friendship policy toward Taiwan17. Next, France will have to strengthen existing partnerships—with India, Japan, and Singapore—and negotiate other partnerships with Indonesia, Malaysia, and South Korea. If it wants to secure its territories and maritime interests in the Indo-Pacific theater, it will have to reach agreements with the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. At this stage, it would be premature to consider an expansion of AUKUS, but nothing prevents France’s full participation in a “Quad +”18.

Beyond the Principle of Sovereignty

Finally, tackling the question of sovereignty head-on does not mean sacrificing to the state idol, the cult of Machtpolitik, or the illusion of omnipotence: power is only worth the range of possibilities it opens up. Indeed, the absolutization of sovereignty is one of the pitfalls of modern thought when the tearing of the “seamless robe” of Christendom gradually lost sight of any reference point beyond politics. A political regime that has no other reason for being than its self-preservation would be of little value. Philosopher Julien Freund even saw it as a sure sign of decadence. For the ancient Greeks, the question of the best political regime did not go without reflection on the gods, the cosmos, and virtue: being just meant being adjusted to the order of the world. Following Christianization, the fate of the earthly city could not be thought of independently from the heavenly city, without confusing the plans but in a quest for harmony between the temporal and spiritual spheres.

In France’s case, let us remember that it is at the heart of the West in all meanings of this concept. In “La France en marbre blanc,” philosopher Louis Rougier demonstrated that this nation was and remains “the model of the West.” He was eloquent: “Let us be careful… Paris is the last model of the West. Without Paris, we would soon live only from the shadow of a shadow, from the fragrance of a broken vase. The cause of France is the cause of Western civilization, of Christian civilization; it is the cause of humankind.” Therefore, French sovereignty cannot be thought of outside the framework of civilizational patriotism that transcends mere national belonging; a civilization of the person founded on a certain idea of humankind, a moral agent free and capable of arbitrating between good and evil. This goes beyond the mere sovereign function, but there is no great politics without concern for the world and eschatological awareness.

Associate professor of history and geography and researcher at the French Institute of Geopolitics (University of Paris VIII). Author of several books, he works within the Thomas More Institute on geopolitical and defense issues in Europe. His research areas cover the Baltic-Black Sea region, post-Soviet Eurasia, and the Mediterranean.


  1. See Julien Freund, “L’essence du politique,” 1965.
  2. See Jean-Sylvestre Mongrenier, “La Pologne sur la scène européenne et internationale: pivot géopolitique ou acteur géostratégique?” Diplomatie No. 101, November-December 2019, available here.
  3. To those who often invoke the memory of De Gaulle, let us recall the importance of the Pinay-Rueff plan for restoring public finances and monetary orthodoxy in the effort to revive France during the establishment of the Fifth Republic.
  4. Jean-Sylvestre Mongrenier, “Les ambiguïtés de la politique étrangère allemande et les angles morts du tandem Paris-Berlin,” Institut Thomas More, Points Clés, March 25, 2021, available here.
  5. See the presidential speech delivered at the Globsec forum in Bratislava on May 31, 2023.
  6. See Jean-Sylvestre Mongrenier, “Face à la Russie: l’acteur géostratégique polonais et les équilibres euro-atlantiques“, Desk Russie, February 11, 2022.
  7. As things stand, as long as Ukraine remains outside the European Union and NATO, this is a regulative idea.
  8. “They crossed the Rhine with Monsieur de Turenne.” The Noailles Dragons march is attributed to Jean-Baptiste Lully.
  9. See Jean-Sylvestre Mongrenier, “Des accords de Lancaster House au Grand Large : pour un axe géopolitique Paris-Londres,” Institut Thomas More, Note d’actualité No. 72, November 2020, available here.
  10. Within NATO, there is a Euro-Atlantic “Quad” that associates Germany with the three powers in question.
  11. See Jean-Sylvestre Mongrenier, “L’Occident : une civilisation et une réalité géopolitique à l’épreuve,” Institut Thomas More, Note d’actualité No. 90, February 2024.
  12. Signed in Washington by the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Israel on September 15, 2020, these salutary agreements established official relations between the Jewish state and several countries of the Sunni Arab world. With lucidity, Abu Dhabi initiated a peace process that reshapes the balance of power in the Middle East and alters the geopolitical situation. Since then, Morocco and Sudan have normalized their relations with Israel. See Jean-Sylvestre Mongrenier, “Les accords d’Abraham signés entre Israël et plusieurs États arabes doivent être préservés,” Le Monde, May 20, 2021, available here.
  13. See Jean-Sylvestre Mongrenier, “Une fois doté de l’arme atomique, le régime iranien se sentira invulnérable,” Le Monde, September 20, 2022, available here.
  14. See Jean-Sylvestre Mongrenier, “Géopolitique et ambitions militaires de la France : l’Europe ne suffit pas,” Institut Thomas More, Note No. 35, June 2019, available here.
  15. See Jean-Sylvestre Mongrenier, “La France a-t-elle besoin d’un deuxième porte-avions?” Institut Thomas More, Note, March 26, 2018, available here.
  16. The AUKUS pact, made public on September 15, 2021, is a regional triple alliance that strengthens existing political, diplomatic, and strategic ties between the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom. In addition to the design and production of nuclear-powered attack submarines, the AUKUS pact includes security guarantees and an alliance in new technologies. It notably concerns cooperation on hypersonic missiles. In the United States, this pact is presented as the prototype of new types of alliances.
  17. See Laurent Amelot, “Le soutien à Taïwan, un axe stratégique de la politique indopacifique de l’Europe face à l’agressivité chinoise,” Boulevard Extérieur, February 13, 2021, available here.
  18. The Indo-Pacific Quad is a cooperation structure that includes the United States, Japan, Australia, and India. Founded in 2004 to address the effects of the tsunami in Asia, the Quad was formalized in 2007 on the sidelines of an ASEAN summit (Association of Southeast Asian Nations). Relaunched in November 2020, this cooperation structure held a virtual summit the following year, with its heads of state and government publishing a joint column (March 12, 2021). On September 24, 2021, Joe Biden and the United States hosted a true Quad summit. Beyond joint military exercises to which France could be associated, the group also addresses climate change, the ongoing pandemic, digital issues, and the question of semiconductor supply chains. Its members affirm their support for a “free and open Indo-Pacific region.” An expansion to include France and the United Kingdom would create the “Quad +.”

See also

In Pursuit of a More Perfect Union

Moscow has chosen its side. A few days before the second round of the French legislative elections, the...

Tomorrow: France Versus Ukraine? A Momentum Cut Short

While France has made remarkable conceptual progress in its support for Ukraine in recent months, a victory for the far right could call this into question at the worst possible moment.

Most read

Russian Expansionism: Enduring Goals and Recurring Methods

Russia's messianic, expansionist and militarist propensity is inseparable from the autocratic matrix of Russian power.

Toward a Putinization of France? 

This essay deals with both history and current events. The author demonstrates how Putin’s regime and its ideologues...