The last 24 months of elections and referenda have changed the values and priorities of some of the world’s most powerful nations, including the permanent five members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). These changes have meant that France and its new President, Emmanuel Macron, have inherited a good chunk of the reliance of their numerous allies to maintain global peace and security. It probably wasn’t what the newcomer head of government was looking to win when he ran as an outside chance, almost a protest candidate, in France’s presidential race, but in 2016, the shift began with a series of political upsets, unpredictable elections, and destabilising forces, to what has now emerged as a new era for France on the world stage.
Emmanuel Macron, as a fresh face and vocal centrist, not only landed himself the security of France, but the world, when he defeated far right candidate Marine Le Pen. As part of a series of defeats for the far right across Europe, often attributed to a public rejecting what they observed in the beginning of the US Trump administration, Macron became overnight the embodiment of European stability, and thrust himself into the most popular but least populous category of political leaders.
In 1945 the United Nations gave only one of its principle organs the power to issue binding resolutions on states, and balanced the political sensitivities of this power with the presence of five permanent members (or ‘P5’) on the council, the winners of the Second World War, each with prerogative to veto these binding resolutions. Now represented by Russia, the UK, France, the US and China, these states form the core of the international community’s peak body for peace and security. The P5 have since become a circularly reinforcing group of globally powerful states; even when their economic or military powers wane, their power on the Security Council reinforces their status in international real politik. From among them, the US emerged as a dominant power through the 1990s and 2000s, often only curtailed by Russian vetos.
But here’s the twist:
Simply put, it’s been a process of elimination for the P5. Liberal democratic states allied with the US and Western Europe have long been at odds with Russia on global security norms, exacerbated by Vladimir Putin’s inflammatory steps occupying Crimea and propping up Al Assad’s Syrian regime. China’s seat, occupied by the PRC, hasn’t lent itself to supporting human rights or ideas of liberal collective security (on which the UN is founded). They’ve also put themselves out in the cold more recently by continuing to trade with North Korea, and failing to mount the political pressure desired by the US and its allies.
So Russia and China have never really been friends with the liberal West. The US, UK and France have essentially championed the values of that section of the international community, but their elimination from that role has crept in too:
The UK’s vote to leave the European Union drew its political focus internal, leaving an echo of its previous voice in Security Council debate. The country’s strongest negotiators have turned their eyes from North Korea and Syria to Brussels and Strasbourg, and the country’s dedication to European values has fallen sharply both in domestic dialogue and international perception. This has knocked the UK out of contention as a reliable international partner for many of its allies.
The US voted for a new face to politics, which is a nice way of saying one of the most unqualified heads of state in the world. Despite the competence of UN representative Nikki Haley, the US has been loudly shunned for its moves to withdraw from the Paris Climate agreement and take considerable unilateral steps regarding North Korea. It’s closest neighbour, Canada, has denounced the US’s changes in domestic policy on healthcare, immigration and citizenship, industry and economy. And the strength of allegations of the President’s ties to Russia are making traditional allies understandably wary of turning the the US for international peace and security.
And so the world has arrived at: Russia – violent dictator; China – Threat and uncooperative; UK – inward focused, changing values; US – Trump.
France? Elected a centrist leader, rejecting a far-right candidate for a practically unknown one with a solid (if low key) economic and political background. A leading member of the European Union and advocate for the rule of law, shared humanity and equality. A member of NATO, of most coalition forces since the Gulf War, and of the P5. And by virtue of all of these, heir to the reliable voice of the West and its allies.
Not exactly what Macron was anticipating when he began the French presidential election as an outside chance. And the French President has taken some firm steps in the space: earlier this month (July 2017) he sought to get movement in negotiations on the Syrian conflict by taking Assad’s removal off the table as a precondition for talks, saying he did not see a legitimate successor to the current regime leader. While he consequently needed to reassure the Syrian opposition of his opposition to Assad, who he described as illegitimate and an “emery of the Syrian people”, the softened stance has been welcomed as a display of pragmatism.
Domestic opinion of France’s international status has also improved under Macron, after he successfully hosted two of the world’s most controversial leaders in France early in his tenure. The European press and policy communities called his bi-lateral visits with Trump and Putin “successful diplomatic ‘coup’ signalling that France is back on the diplomatic scene.”
Macron now has the tools and the circumstance to solidify France’s place as a leader for global collective security, and a power broker in the most volatile issues facing international peace and security. The Security Council’s deadlocks on Syria, North Korea, Israel and other long-running pressure points may ease with Macron’s middle-line approach to diplomacy, which leans on France’s pre-WWII position to reinvigorate France’s brand as a principled partner and intermediary. World leaders are now looking closely at how they interact with France, and what facilities are available to those who do it well; and we should watch how those leaders tread on the floors on the Élysée Palace, for it may tell us a lot about how well they can read the situation the world now finds itself in.