French President Emmanuel Macron speaks at the 2023 Munich Security Conference (MSC) on February 17, 2023, in Munich, Germany.

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks at the 2023 Munich Security Conference (MSC) on February 17, 2023, in Munich, Germany. Johannes Simon/Getty Images

France Pushes Collective European Air Defense

Emmanuel Macron offers to host a conference to meet Russia’s post-INF threat.

MUNICH, Germany – European leaders should come to Paris to devise a collective air defense against Russia, which has been free to build medium-range nuclear missiles since 2019, France’s president said Friday.

In a speech opening the Munich Security Conference here, President Emmanuel Macron declared his support for an idea recently proposed by Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

“I hope that with our German, Italian, British and all those who wish to join in Europe, we can launch in Paris a conference on the air defense of Europe,” Macron said. “It is about the security of Europe. We have to think it, we have to produce it, we have to negotiate it, we must ensure it, with our NATO allies, but also as Europeans.”

He noted that France was not a party to the now-abandoned INF Treaty, but still had enjoyed its security umbrella.

Macron also declared the West is “ready for a prolonged conflict” in Ukraine, despite concerns that war fatigue could lead allied governments to withdraw support for Kyiv’s defense. 

Macron’s call follows his years-long push for a renewed Eurocentric defense plan, known as “strategic autonomy,” that would complement the transatlantic NATO alliance that relies on the United States. 

Who would lead or run the project seems unclear. In the fall, 12 European countries had endorsed Scholz’s rebirthed idea ahead of a NATO sidelines meeting. Fourteen NATO allies ultimately signed on. Earlier this month, a German think tank questioned whether France and Italy supported Germany’s lead. Macron’s statement in Munich makes clear Scholz’s Euro-focused idea has support, at least in Paris. 

The French leader also urged Europeans to show “unity and determination” for continuing the costly supply of arms to Ukraine, and repeated his familiar pleas for European governments to rapidly increase defense spending and for Europe’s defense industry to ramp up its weapons output. 

“Very clearly, today is not the time for dialogue because we have a Russia which has chosen war, which has chosen to intensify war and which has chosen to go as far as war crimes and attacks on civilian infrastructure.” Macron said. “Russia cannot and must not win this war.”

At Munich, Ukraine remains the focus and Macron played third violin after opening speeches by the host-country’s Scholz, who followed a live-via-satellite appearance by Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. 

One year ago, at this forum, Europe’s leaders warned with some disbelief about Russia’s pending invasion. One year later, Ukraine remains under assault, tens of thousands of Ukrainians and Russians have died, those same leaders are begging their publics not to turn away. One year from now, conference chairman Amb. Christoph Heusgen said he hopes that they will be able to welcome a victorious Zelenskyy to attend in person for a post-war conference. 

That vision—the end of the war in Ukraine—seemed a long way off, as Russia’s Vladimir Putin pledges to continue the war and Western leaders warn that hundreds of thousands of fresh fighters are heading to the front. 

"There is no alternative to Ukrainian victory,” Zelenskyy said. “There is no alternative to Ukraine in the EU. There is no alternative to Ukraine in NATO." As beloved as the wartime president is in rooms like Munich’s, his plea is needed–there is no total unity for any of those statements in transatlantic publics. Scholz and Macron clearly seemed aware and came prepared to sell the war effort to whoever was listening inside or outside of the room.  

“Ukraine belongs here with us, as part of a free and united Europe,” said Scholz, who in recent weeks has gone from being seen as a reluctant arms supplier to the eager engineer of a historic approval to send Germany’s Leopard tanks into Ukraine. The chancellor said those tanks will arrive “very soon.” 

Scholz also hit back at war critics who think Putin may wait out the fight until the West tires and abandons Ukraine. “This will not happen,” he said. After his speech, moderator Christiane Amanpour asked if the war must be one this year, and how long Scholz thinks the war must continue. 

“I think it is wise for people to prepare for a long war,” Scholz said, “and it is wise to give Putin the message that we are ready to stay all the time with Ukraine, and constantly support the country.” Germans agree with him, he said. “I’m sure we will have the support of our people.” 

From Washington, a large delegation of members of Congress has traveled to offer similar support, including leading Republicans like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who have rejected high-profile dissenters in their party who oppose the U.S. intervention in the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., who just became the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, did not attend. 

Scholz and Macron both offered calls for essentially a new world order that rejects the rise of nationalism in their countries and instead seeks to widen, include, and elevate representation of the non-Western world in global security architecture. “We need new solidarities,” particularly with countries in the South” Scholz said, calling on Europe to reject "de-globalization" and "turning our backs on the world." Macron said he worried the global South has lost trust in the North. “The top priority is to restore solidarity…and reshape the global order” through “inclusiveness,” he said. On the world order: “We have to reform it and to reshape it.”

The Biden administration for the second year in a row has sent Vice President Kamala Harris to represent the United States. Harris is not considered a heavy hitter in international security circles and her presence–coupled with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s noticeable absence from the security forum while traveling through Europe–has dotted conversations in the otherwise packed hallways here. Harris is scheduled to address the conference on Saturday.