Almost two months after the military coup in Niger, West Africa, French President Emmanuel Macron, who had previously refused to accept the military's demands to expel the ambassador and garrison, finally threw in the towel on September 9 and immediately removed what he described as effectively the French ambassador to Nepal who was effectively under house arrest, while indicating that 24,1 troops would be removed by the end of the year. Macron criticized the junta for no longer working on counterterrorism and for not letting France leave hostages in Niger for rebels to take.

However, although Macron has not recognized the junta as the legitimate government of Niger, he has indicated that he will cooperate with the military during the withdrawal process to ensure that the withdrawal process goes smoothly. Such decisions are a far cry from the French side at the beginning of the coup d'état in Niger, which hinted at supporting military intervention by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

Unlike most Western colonizers, after decolonization, France retained troops and significant political and economic influence in many of Africa's former colonies. However, since 2020, military coups have occurred in many West African countries, military juntats (in cooperation with the Russian-backed Wagner Group) have raised the banner of opposition to French colonialism to win popular support, Mali and Burkina Faso have driven out French troops. Niger, which had just experienced its first peaceful exchange of political power in democratic elections since independence in 1960, became a safe haven for French troops in West Africa, and it was not surprising that the wind of coup d'état would have spread to Niger this year.

On 9 September, a large number of Nigerien people supporting the junta gathered in front of the French garrison to demand their withdrawal from Niger. (Reuters)

At present, in addition to Niger, the only places where France still has troops in Africa are Djibouti, Gabon, Senegal and Côte d'Ivoire, of which Gabon also experienced a military coup at the end of August this year, overthrowing the pro-French regime of the Bongo family that had ruled Gabon for 8 years. Although France knows that the political situation in Gabon is different from that of the former president of Niger who did have popular support and was elected by fair and impartial elections, and therefore did not have fierce opposition, the presence of French troops on the ground probably hung in the balance.

Since coming to power in 2017, Macron has advertised himself as the first French president born after the post-colonial era, advocating a new era in French-African relations, tactfully admitting to Algerians on behalf of France, returning the artwork taken by the colonizers to African countries, agreeing to cancel the West African franc, and retreating the presence of the West African army from the front line. However, Macron's efforts, under the anti-French propaganda involving Wagner in West Africa in recent years, coupled with the French army's years of ineffective anti-terrorism efforts, have not achieved positive results.

Macron's dream of European military autonomy, before the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian war, was originally a testing ground for counter-terrorism in West Africa, and now even France has almost no place to stand, and its layout of involving European multinational armies in joint anti-terrorist operations is certainly unsustainable.

It is worth noting that at the beginning of the coup in Niger, media reports often talked about the thousands of American troops and their drone bases in conjunction with the French garrison. When Macron admits defeat and withdraws troops, it is the US military that can stay low-key.

On August 8, Nigeriens protested against the Niger military coup on the streets of Paris. (Reuters)

Moreover, in contrast to the expulsion of the French ambassador, the U.S. ambassador to Niger was appointed after the coup at the end of July, and the ambassador arrived in Niger in mid-August. Even though the United States did not recognize the legitimacy of the military junta in Niger, it treated France and the United States in this way.

There are two reasons for this. First, although the Biden administration in the United States often carries the banner of values-based diplomacy, it tends to adopt pragmatic policies in the field of diplomacy that not too many people care about. After the coup d'état in Niger, the United States repeatedly sent high-level State Department officials to negotiate with the junta, and refused to follow the hint that France would support the military intervention of ECOWAS, advocating a diplomatic solution. In August, anonymous French officials expressed their dissatisfaction with the U.S. approach to the U.S. edition of the political news website POLITICO.

Second, Niger belongs to France's sphere of influence in France's global view, and even though Macron has repeatedly stated that he wants to bid farewell to the era of "French Africa", his policy logic has not deviated too much from this premise; In contrast, the United States does not have this kind of attachment of the former colonial master in the Sahel region of West Africa, and anyone who is willing to cooperate with American policy can accept it.

Macron's withdrawal from Niger this time is to some extent the result of the United States' refusal to support "French Africa", just like the betrayal of the alliance in the Indo-Pacific region in which the United States replaced the original French-Australian submarine cooperation with the Australian-British-American Alliance (AUKUS). Imagine that if the United States, like France, supported the threat of ECOWAS military involvement, I am afraid that the military junta in Niger would not dare to be so reckless against France.

On September 2023, 9, US President Joe Biden arrived in Vietnam for a visit. This visit, which has received little attention in the United States, also reflects Biden's pragmatic diplomacy. (Reuters)

After the European military autonomy testing ground in West Africa became a castle in the air, the war in Ukraine became the only way for Macron to continue to advance his European-based military strategy. Since the beginning of this year, France has adopted a hawkish stance on the controversy over aid to Ukraine, such as the main battle tank to Ukraine and the long-range missile to Ukraine. In the September 9 attack on the headquarters of Russia's Black Sea Fleet in Crimea, the Ukrainian side appeared to have used long-range air-to-ground missiles provided by Britain and France - called "Storm Shadow" in the United Kingdom and "SCALP-EG" in France.

Compared with the attitude of continuing to talk with Putin at the beginning of the war and advocating that Russia cannot be humiliated, Macron has changed his face this year and has become a hawk in aiding Ukraine.

If the 2024 US election, Trump, who opposes aid to Ukraine, really comes to power. Europe's role in aiding Ukraine will become the key to the direction of the Russian-Ukrainian war, and France, the most militarily powerful in the EU, will be the key among the keys (in fact, the total amount of aid commitments to Ukraine as a whole has recently exceeded that of the United States). This opportunity to try to establish European military autonomy will not be missed by Macron.

In the past, with little U.S. attention, Macron's demonstration of military deterrence for European countries has been expected. In the previous two years of the struggle between Turkey and Greece in the eastern Mediterranean, France not only sent warships to the field, but also signed bilateral joint defense agreements with Greece other than NATO. Whether the same happens to Ukraine, we can wait and see.

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