John Patten shares his thoughts on current events and points out that the precipice edge looms large in the opinion of President Macron.  John has been a good friend since school days and has kindly agreed to share his thoughts on current events

John Patten is a retired newspaper editor and respected journalist whose father Jack Patten was the editor of the Star and whose grandfather, George Wilson, was the editor of the Cape Times. Educated at Kind Edward VII School and matriculated in 1954 and is a graduate of the University of Witwatersrand.

The precipice

“The British “Economist” magazine has focused attention this week on a warning from French president Emmanuel Macron that should not be ignored. It affects Europe. It affects Britain. It affects the United States. It affects the world.

And it is a warning everyone should take to heart, because it affects us all.

In the interview, Macron warns that Europe is “on the edge of a precipice”, that the NATO alliance is suffering “brain death”, and that Europe needs a military force of its own.

Controversially, he argues that the European Union needs to act as a political bloc, not just as a market, that it should have its own policies on technology, data and climate change.

He even urges Europe to embrace realpolitik and takes the example of rebuilding relations with Russia.

Macron wants Europe to wake up and prepare for a tougher and less forgiving world.

The warning is serious, but it is made more serious for the fact that his aims go counter to US President Donald Trump’s “America First” policies and those of the British Boris Johnson’s fixation with “getting Brexit done”.

Why should Macron be so concerned? It arises from the fact that President Trump has started acting unilaterally, without consulting his NATO allies, on Middle East issues such as the sudden withdrawal of US troops from Syria, and then involvement with the Kurds in Syria.

The delicate position of the Ukraine is being tampered with by Trump to advance his own presidential campaign for re-election next year.

The United States is not part of the international accord in fighting climate change, regarded elsewhere as a key issue in today’s conditions.

Boris Johnson’s insistence on Britain leaving the EU has the effect of dissociating Britain from the vital concerns of Europe by placing it in a separate, independent, category where Europe cannot trust Britain as an ally.
Europe cannot trust the USA and it cannot trust Britain. What is left of the Western Alliance on which a whole civilisation has been built?

If Britain leaves the EU, could this lead to other EU members bailing out? This could be the start of a rising tide of rivalries within the 28 countries presently aligned in the EU. Europe should know where that leads. European history of the 20th Century is proof of what destruction was caused by putting national interests of any one country against another, or of rival alliances within the bloc.

All the hard work of decades in the later stages of the 20th Century in overcoming the damage of two world wars is threatened by nationalistic movements that could tear the alliance apart.

Europe is just celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Berlin Wall being torn down, signifying the defeat of communism and the reunification of Europe, but present trends don’t support that victory.

Macron rightly points to the need to rebuild relations with Russia, a task Western nations have shied away from, because Russia is a kleptocracy since the fall of communism, and is not easily brought into the democratic fold. Left outside it, however, if treated as an enemy, it holds very great dangers for the West.

There are two greater dangers than Russia – Muslim extremism, and Chinese communism – which make Macron’s urging an accord with Russia the more pressing. The West could even live quite easily with China, if both acknowledge their ideological differences while finding accord within a world economic system.

Not so Muslim extremism, which recognises no compromises, not in Israel, not in Afghanistan, not Iraq, Iran, the Arabian Peninsula and parts of north Africa. Western interference has made Western nations the enemies of Muslim extremists. Muslim extremism does not have the military power of some of the other great nations of the world, but it has the ability to cause chaos repeatedly through acts of terrorism.

To fight that threat, Europe would do well to unite. The EU grew out of the need to strengthen economic ties and is, in fact, an economic union. Macron is suggesting much more than that. He wants to see Europe as a political bloc.
In parts of the EU, this idea is strongly resisted. Britain in particular has no wish to form a political unity with Europe. It prides itself on its own democracy too highly. Britons as a nation hardly regard themselves as Europeans, though many enjoy the economic benefits of being members of the EU. They want to have their cake and eat it.

If, as Macron would like to see it, Europe became a bloc, it would have the same – or even greater – political and economic punch than the Unite States. The United States of Europe could be more powerful than the United States of America. That is probably one of the reasons why President Trump backs Boris Johnson. Divide and Rule is an old game.

One of the strongest reasons Macron urges Europe to develop its own military force is because he can no longer rely on the United States. NATO is a suspect organisation on which to rely for the security of Europe.

That is a sad thing to say about NATO, which played so big a part in defeating Nazism and setting up the return of democracy to most of Europe.

For Europe to strive for military independence from the United States also has extreme dangers. It could lead to another arms race across the world. It could lead to the recolonisation of territories rich in resources to ensure supply for military strength. These territories could even be far from Europe.

That is why this is not just a European issue. This is a world issue.

President Macron suggests Europe is on the edge of precipice. He is not exaggerating.

The surface of international relations may seem calm, but a cauldron is bubbling just below. The world is awash with civil demonstrations and strikes and clashes with authority that may seem minor in themselves, but amount to a worrying trend when put together. There is a restlessness that could burst into very destructive actions from populist movements which might be big in causing trouble but very inadequate when rising to power. Revolutionaries don’t make good governors.

South Africa knows that all too well.


Perhaps it is worth my while to clarify my reference to NATO as an organisation that helped defeat Nazism and aided the return of democracy to most of Europe. It was the alliance of anti-Nazi elements in Western European with the United States (an alliance which later formed NATO) that played such a critical role in tipping the balance against Nazism in the Second World War. Russia played a major part in the war on the eastern front, and the Commonwealth countries joined the Allied push from the south and west, while underground movements in countries such as France and Poland helped undermine the Nazi stranglehold. I skimmed this issue too briefly in my article.”