Since the first waves of Russian tanks stormed across Ukraine’s border on February 24, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin and the leaders of the Western world have been engaged in a precise and careful dance. The nations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) emphasize that they bear no great desire to bring Moscow to its knees but instead slide weapons across the table to Ukraine one by one, hoping that Putin won’t object. For his part, Vladimir Putin blusters and raves, conjuring images of a world nuclear war, but carefully avoids the steps that might broaden his difficult war past the borders of Ukraine—at least for now.

For upwards of two years, there have been missteps, close calls, and moments of sacrifice on all sides, but the tenuous balance is held. Then, in February of this year, a certain Frenchman decided to start testing that balance to see just how much disruption it could take. Meet Emmanuel Macron, President of France, who’s been making headlines for months because of his seeming insistence that this balance is not what it seems. To hear Macron tell it, the idea that NATO and Russia wouldn’t face down directly on the battlefields of Ukraine is not a guarantee but an act of mercy by the North Atlantic Alliance and one that could be taken back if the nations of the alliance so choose.

The Context: Why Now?

Before long, Macron’s allies, his inner circle, and his press team would give him a bit of a talking to in private and run damage control in public in order to reset the status quo. But three months after the initial round of comments that set off this whole thing, Macron is showing no signs of stopping. So, I think it’s about time we talk about what he’s up to.

The Bombshell: February 26, 2024

The first signal that something was amiss in France’s highest office came on February 26, 2024. On that day, Emmanuel Macron and over 20 other top European heads of state and diplomats, along with a range of other Western officials directly and tangentially tied to NATO, had a meeting. The meeting took place in Paris, so obviously Macron took something of a leading role, but by no means was he the only major player there. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was on the premises, so was Polish President Andrzej Duda, British Foreign Secretary David Cameron, and American Diplomat James O’Brien among several other geopolitical heavy hitters.

Going into the meeting, all parties involved seemed to understand that they had some serious business to cover. Not two weeks earlier, Estonian Foreign Minister Margus Tsahkna had publicly warned the nations of NATO that the alliance had roughly three to four years to strengthen its defenses before the reinvigorated Russian war machine was ready to probe at NATO directly. During the meeting, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky would give a speech remotely, and the nations attending would consider new ways to get long-range missiles and artillery shells to Ukraine’s front lines in the Donbas. But when Emmanuel Macron took his press podium after the meeting concluded, he dropped a bombshell quote that would push the rest of the day’s news right off of the front page.

According to Macron, the idea that NATO would send Western troops en masse to Ukraine’s front lines was on the table. Quoting him here, translated to English, “There’s no consensus today to send in an officially endorsed matter troops on the ground, but in terms of dynamics, nothing can be ruled out.” When asked in a follow-up which nations were open to sending troops, Macron declined to answer, citing instead a preference for strategic ambiguity—that is to say, the practice of intentionally remaining vague about one’s intentions in order to make adversarial leaders uncertain about what may happen in the future. According to Macron, such measures could be deemed necessary in order to prevent a Russian victory in Ukraine, quoting, “We will do everything needed so Russia cannot win the war.”

The Fallout: Immediate Reactions

To understand just how big of a deal this was and still is today, we need only take into account what’s generally seen as the status quo for interactions between NATO and Russia. NATO leverages about a continent’s worth of military power, plus the US and Canada, and includes several nations with substantial nuclear arsenals. Russia leverages a highly formidable war machine shaped and reformed by the hard lessons of the early Ukraine invasion and also has enough nuclear weapons to turn a fair portion of the world to dust.

According to prevailing wisdom, troops of a NATO member nation meeting Russian troops in combat would be catastrophic. NATO’s Article 5 guarantees that an attack on one NATO country is an attack on all, and locking the alliance into battle with Russia also locks the two sides into a direct conflict. Once there, escalation is likely, and if escalation between Russia and NATO goes unchecked, well, that ends in nuclear apocalypse, doesn’t it?

Macron was trying to turn the conventional wisdom on its head, in keeping with the disruptive force that he’s becoming in global politics. But in the hours after his initial statement, he was lampooned by the global press for having made such a gross misstep. Said by Reuters, Macron “was so ambiguous that he sparked confusion and irritation among some allies.” Said the headlines at Bloomberg, “Macron’s Ambiguity on Ukraine Backfires as Allies Bul of Troops.” Said the Associated Press, “Macron appeared isolated on the global stage this week after saying the possibility of Western troops being sent to Ukraine could not be ruled out, a comment that prompted outcry from other leaders.”

And as for that outcry, it was not in short supply. Even among Macron’s closest allies, the USA, Germany, and Poland all affirmed that they would not send troops to Ukraine. On the same night that Macron made his comments, Jens Stoltenberg, head of NATO, confirmed that NATO does not plan to send combat troops to Ukraine. A range of other European leaders echoed the same sentiment, from Italy to Spain to Slovakia to the Czech Republic. Even Macron’s own defense minister outright denied his boss’s meaning, insisting that discussions at the meeting had been about demining and training operations far from the Ukrainian front lines, quoting, “It’s not sending troops to wage war against Russia.”

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said, “There will be no ground troops, no soldiers on Ukrainian soil who are sent there by European states or NATO states.” So, Macron had made a tactical blunder, and by all accounts, he was going to pay for it on the international stage.

The Shift: Support from Unexpected Quarters

Until, within just a few days of his initial proclamation, the geopolitical winds started to shift. It was Estonia who first offered something beyond just the standoffish statements of the rest of NATO. Days after Macron’s statement, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas voiced her support for the core sentiment, quoting, “Everything is on the table to help Ukraine beat Putin.” Out of anybody in NATO, Kallas was an important voice to register on the matter. Estonia, along with the other two Baltic states, Latvia and Lithuania, is broadly seen as being among the most likely NATO targets of future Russian aggression.

After Kallas, it was Czech President Petr Pavel, quoting, “There should be no limit regarding possibilities in the support for Ukraine. I’m in favor of looking for new ways, including continuing the discussion about a possible presence in Ukraine. Let’s not limit ourselves where we shouldn’t.” Slowly, almost as if they were dipping their toes in the pool before diving in, a hesitant but growing chorus of foreign ministers, diplomats, and the occasional defense minister chimed in their support as Macron’s ideas seemed to pick up steam.

On March 5, a little over a week after his first announcement, Macron doubled down. In Prague, during a visit that saw him welcomed by the aforementioned Czech president, he issued a withering condemnation of the NATO nations who had opposed him, quoting, “Europe has been cut into two by cowardice, by the desire of one part of Europe not to see the difficulties of the other, to abandon its destiny to totalitarianism.” Not only did that particular statement blast a massive shot across the bow of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, but it appeared to trouble Russia’s leaders in a way that few NATO actions had done in recent months.

Around that same time, Russia had been posturing around separatists in Transnistria, escalation with Poland, nuclear weapons in Belarus, and the idea of limitless Russian borders intended to stretch far beyond Ukraine. Those threats only rose when Macron piped up again, seemingly in an attempt to shout down the French leader before he gained momentum. But in reality, Russia’s posturing had the opposite effect from what had probably been intended. Instead of countering the idea of NATO troops in Ukraine with the idea that NATO would just be wiped away with a wave of Putin’s hands, Russia seemed to confirm that yes, Macron’s greatest fears were correct. Russia’s plans did not stop at Ukraine’s western border. Putin didn’t even bother to claim that they did, so why wouldn’t the West consider boots on the ground on NATO’s own terms before they were forced to do the same thing on Russia’s?

Macron’s Line in the Sand

In the months after Macron’s initial line in the sand, he hasn’t been convinced by his allies to back down as we and many other observers anticipated at the time. Instead, he’s turned into something of a rallying point for those who wish to stand up to Putin and stop Russian expansion in Ukraine before it can move further westward. As time has gone on, Macron has laid out the argument again and with greater specificity, framing it as the concept of a mortal Europe that could very well be killed if Russian aggression remains unchecked up to and further than Ukraine’s western borders.

Among the major developments here, there are a clear set of terms under which Macron has asserted that NATO action in Ukraine would be warranted. And in the eyes of many who disdain the idea, Macron’s specific terms of engagement have raised concerns even further. Per Macron, in an interview with The Economist published on May 2, two criteria would have to be met in order to draw in NATO troops in line with his strategic vision. First, Russia would need to make a major breakthrough in Ukraine’s front lines—not the sort of slow grinding land takeover we’re seeing in Ukraine at the time of writing, but a large-scale breakthrough that would cause a cascading effect on the Ukrainian defenses. And second, Ukraine would need to request that NATO get involved.

According to Macron, it could be just that simple. Said Macron of the idea that Russia could take Ukraine and perhaps be satisfied, quoting, “Who can pretend that Russia will stop there? What security will there be for the other neighboring countries—Moldova, Romania, Poland, Lithuania, and the others?” He’s also been careful to reiterate his frame of strategic deterrence, quoting, “Our credibility also depends on our capacity to deter by not giving full visibility as to what we will or will not do; otherwise, we weaken ourselves.”

In addition to his efforts to illustrate the need for openness to direct intervention in Ukraine, Macron has emphasized that openness to Ukraine action is just one facet of a broader and very, very necessary change. Macron has rallied for years to try and advocate for a pan-European shift away from reliance on the United States for security—a problem that Macron says, quoting, “does not allow Europe to have a common security framework, a common concept because it puts us in the position of thinking about our security only by way of an ally who is being asked to think about it.”

As Macron’s ideas about European war readiness catch on, the French leader has heralded a so-called strategic awakening in Europe, with the ultimate hope being that Europe may soon be ready to discuss matters of internal defense without demanding involvement from the United States.

Russian Response and the Geopolitical Chess Game

Russia has taken an increasing interest in Macron’s propositions, reacting with all the fire and brimstone that one would expect of the wartime Kremlin. After Macron’s most recent affirmation that he still stands by the idea of a NATO deployment, Russia has warned that French troops in Ukraine would be taken as legitimate targets. A spokesperson for Russia’s foreign ministry, Maria Zakharova, drew attention to the increasing numbers of French nationals being killed in Ukraine, citing their deaths as proof that Moscow has no qualms about killing people who are ostensibly under Macron’s protection. In Russia’s view, that should be a reminder to Macron: send NATO troops and Paris, Brussels, or anybody else will all but guarantee a major showdown.

Europe has spent years avoiding anything that might bring NATO into a cycle of direct escalation with Russia, and if Russia were to kill NATO troops, then by Europe’s own logic, that same cycle would be inevitable. But Macron can send his own signals to the Kremlin too, and as of now, that seems to be the point. By the Frenchman’s own words and actions, he’s trying to show Moscow that whether Vladimir Putin likes it or not, NATO deployment is an option that Russia has got to consider. No longer will NATO make it easy for Putin to suppose that the alliance dare not get involved. No longer will NATO make promises to Russia directly that the Europeans wouldn’t dare get in his way.

If Macron’s line of attack succeeds, then each move Putin and the Russian Ministry of Defense dares to make will now have to weigh the risk that it may provoke a direct response from the alliance. After all, it’s only fair that if NATO should walk on eggshells around Russia, then the inverse should be true as well. Despite the West issuing countless condemnations of Russia’s actions, its tangible responses have been limited to providing weapons and aid, often at a slow pace or with a staccato delivery, thus reinforcing the same suspicions of weakness within the alliance that have emboldened Vladimir Putin thus far. Ukraine’s biggest problems by far are its lack of manpower, equipment, and real allies, and if NATO were really a credible defender of Ukraine, they’d be more than happy to provide manpower and battlefield allies as well as equipment.

The Broader European Reaction

Macron’s reasons for invoking potential troop deployments to Ukraine have crystallized, though fears of a surprise push for conscription have largely gone by the wayside. While international observers speculated early on that Macron might be trying to get ahead of a PR crisis, preparing the European public for a troop deployment that the continent’s leaders had agreed behind closed doors would be an eventuality, that now appears not to be the case. Instead, Macron has emphasized that he aims to respond to Russia’s own attempts to ratchet up geopolitical pressure by resorting to scorched earth tactics in Ukraine, unilaterally crowning himself ruler for a fifth term of office, and being involved with the suspicious death of longtime Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in a penal colony earlier this year.

Macron has specifically called out Russian provocations against France, including a threat to shoot down a French surveillance aircraft patrolling over international waters and a campaign to spread disinformation not just in France but across the European continent. If Putin’s patterns of aggression constitute a language, so to speak, then Macron is both learning that language and using it to tell Putin off while the rest of NATO tries fruitlessly to make Putin speak proper European.

The Frenchman has also made a show of breaking with conventional European wisdom and signaling directly to Putin that he’s willing to do so. For example, Macron hasn’t held back from criticizing Germany, despite the supreme importance of French and German political cooperation in European politics. Macron has been eager to needle at Berlin for its initial refusal to send anything more than “sleeping bags and helmets” to Ukraine at the start of the full-scale war. While France has played its own part standing in the way of military aid, Macron has largely dropped that opposition. For example, Paris has thrown its support behind a Czech proposal to purchase massive amounts of artillery for Ukraine from a wide range of global sellers outside the European Union, and he’s addressed that shift directly, explaining that while he was once willing to leave lines of communication open with Putin long after the rest of NATO had turned their backs, he did so because the options for reconciliation hadn’t yet been exhausted. Now that they have, he’s had the pragmatism and the versatile thinking to change with the times—or at least that’s how he tells it.

Reining in the Renegade

Whatever one may think of Macron’s grand Russia strategy, it should at least be clear that this is far from a fleeting notion. Like it or not, one of Europe’s powerhouse nations—on defense, at least relatively speaking—has decided that the prospect of NATO deployment to Ukraine is now on the table. Yet, by now, it should be abundantly clear that Macron’s posture is not one that has the rest of NATO in lockstep, at least not publicly. With intense pushback by his own close allies and initial attempts to minimize and equivocate by even members of his own government, this is a story that’s gone beyond just the words Macron has been saying. It’s partly the story of Macron the maverick, Macron the Cassandra, and Macron the leader who thought he knew better than the entire rest of the NATO alliance.

For the leaders who’ve been working alongside Macron for years, the idea that the French president would try and heave European security politics in various directions all by himself really isn’t anything new. Macron is known for this sort of thing, and broadly, his approach has made many of his biggest allies used to tuning him out. He’s the sort of guy to really, really firmly stick to a position until its utility is basically exhausted and then throw himself and his government fully in the opposite direction as if to overwrite whatever that previous position might have been. He’s known for being seemingly allergic to the status quo on issues domestic and international and, at the same time, eager to take any opportunity to score points in diplomatic sparring matches. He’s a shrewd leader, absolutely—a consummate politician who’s very good at getting his way. But he’s also a vagabond in a European order that much prefers careful deliberation rather than swashbuckling.

Finally, he’s headed into an election where far-right leader Marine Le Pen appears to be on track to finally gain control of Paris. So regardless of any merit Macron’s ideas on NATO deployment may have, allies like Germany and the United Kingdom have been reticent to throw their support behind him and risk the black eyes that might come if Macron flips his position again. After all, it wasn’t long ago that Macron was an anomaly in Europe because he kept open lines of communication with Vladimir Putin even as Russian tanks sowed devastation across Ukraine. At that time, Macron had advocated for an approach that avoided humiliating Russia “so that when the fighting stops we can build a way out together, our diplomatic paths.” Then, as now, Macron chose a path that flew in the face of conventional European wisdom, and while there’s certainly an argument that Macron had a point both then and now, there’s also an argument that Macron reflexively does the opposite to the rest of Europe, either to score points in case conventional wisdom ends up being wrong or just because he can’t help himself.

Strategic Ambiguity: Does It Work?

And in perhaps the most important strategic argument against Macron’s position, there’s the point to be made that France’s leader actually diminishes the credibility of NATO to threaten boots on the ground rather than enhancing it. So the thinking goes, such a move might actually have been up for discussion behind closed doors inside NATO, but now Macron’s misstep has forced his international partners to focus on doing damage control for a decision that wasn’t yet agreed on. Now, NATO leaders have had to put themselves on record—even repeatedly—to insist that Macron had misrepresented the alliance’s position when in reality he may have just jumped the gun on a decision that would have been forthcoming eventually.

All of that is made even worse by Macron’s shots at Germany, accusing his NATO partner of cynicism against Russia and inaction on weapons deliveries to Ukraine, when in reality German arms deliveries far outpace the French. And finally, Macron’s argument is undercut by the hard reality that even the people of France don’t necessarily support his idea. As of March, nearly 70% of French poll respondents were opposed to the idea of sending Western troops into Ukraine, a sentiment that likely gets worse in many other NATO nations who now have to abide by some snooty Frenchman in Paris trying to sacrifice his neighbors’ sons and daughters.

Even early on, the reaction to Macron’s new posture was not negative across the board. Lithuania’s foreign minister, quoted by Reuters, came out in support of the initiative after Macron’s initial press statement, saying, “Times like this require political leadership, ambition, and courage to think outside of the box.” Reuters quoted a second unnamed diplomat from Eastern Europe, “I do very much think what Macron said is useful. It also demonstrates to our public opinion the urgency of the matter and what is at stake.” And adding that Macron’s statements weren’t entirely without merit, Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico offered that there were unnamed nations within NATO considering bilateral deals that might send their troops to Ukraine outside of the alliance’s umbrella.

Macron’s Broader Vision

While Macron may have been the first major European leader to really threaten NATO boots on the ground, he’s not the only one who’s pushed past boundaries that the alliance once thought to be sacred. Ask NATO in 2022, and there was no way that American-made F-16 fighter jets would make their way into Ukraine’s arsenal. There was no way that Ukraine could receive long-range missiles, ones that might let the nation strike deep into Russian territory. And there was no way that Abrams or Leopard tanks could find their way to the front lines. Certainly not. Russia proudly mounts captured Abrams and Leopard tanks in a display in Moscow, thus demonstrating that they’ve finally got the means to reverse-engineer tanks that were designed in the 1970s. At the time of writing, David Cameron of the UK’s Foreign Ministry has confirmed that Ukraine is at liberty to use British-made weapons to strike targets deep inside Russia, in a tacit endorsement of the idea that it’s more valuable to challenge Russian limits around the Ukraine war than to respect them.

At this point in the conflict, with the amount and types of aid that Europe has already granted to Ukraine, and the war nowhere near settled, there’s only so many sorts of support that Europe has left to give, and troops are still an item that is left on that checklist. If NATO’s past actions predict its future decisions, then with troop deployments now proposed in the same way that tank and fighter jet deliveries once were proposed, it won’t be much longer until the item is put forward for serious debate.

The Risk of Ambiguity: A Double-Edged Sword

At this point, it appears that Macron’s Pandora’s box is now open, and it’s unlikely that it’s going to be closed anytime soon. What that means, though, is that Macron is now in the unenviable position of having to find out whether his bold new take on geopolitics is actually worth anything once it’s put into practice. The grand question around Macron is one that no global leader wants to be confronted with in these sorts of terms, but let’s ask it anyway: With his Russia strategy now in full view and seemingly on its way to being adopted, is Emmanuel Macron a geopolitical mastermind, or is he a bumbling fool? The place to start is by removing the man and focusing squarely on the concept. Does strategic ambiguity actually work, and is it a sensible choice here where NATO troop deployment is concerned?

As for whether it works in a broad sense, it tends to be deployed rather often by world nations, and those world nations don’t typically end up being caught in peer or near-peer conflicts once strategic ambiguity becomes their approach of choice. Israel maintains a policy of strategic ambiguity around whether it possesses nuclear weapons, and so far, no Middle Eastern nation that actually poses a credible threat to Israel has decided to go to war with it. America’s diplomatic non-recognition of Taiwan and its broader geopolitical posture in East Asia present strategic ambiguity to China, and at least at the time of writing, Taiwan remains conspicuously uninvaded. For that matter, China’s strategic ambiguity toward Taiwan has led foreign governments to walk on eggshells in how they engage with the island.

The inherent value of strategic ambiguity comes in its ability to play on the fears of an adversary nation. By introducing a certain level of vagueness over where certain red lines are, while building up the idea of just how bad the penalties will be if those red lines are crossed, nations are able to make their adversaries exercise a greater amount of caution in order not to blunder their way into a confrontation they hope to avoid. While this sort of approach doesn’t really work if an adversary is willing to throw caution to the winds, Russia certainly isn’t that adversary—no matter how badly it wants to be. Despite its nuclear bluster and aggression in Ukraine, the geopolitics of the Russian bear are the same as the politics of running into a real bear in the forest: it’s just as scared of you as you are of it.

As world-shaking as it was for Russia to invade Ukraine in 2022, a truly reckless nation would not have tiptoed through eight years of low-grade conflict before invading. It would not have held back from the sort of chemical, biological, and nuclear attacks that Russia can pull off but has mostly avoided, and it would not be spending so much time trying to test NATO through disinformation and diplomacy when a takeover of the Baltic states would certainly do the trick.

And not only is strategic ambiguity an approach that stands a chance at working with a nation as cautious as Russia, but it’s also an approach that Russia itself loves to employ. Say what you want about the guy, but Vladimir Putin is among the world leaders to have mastered the principles of strategic ambiguity, introducing the prospect of nuclear retaliation for non-nuclear military actions by NATO and playing the long game with Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, and other nations about just when pro-Western acts in those nations will risk incurring Putin’s wrath. Putin engages in the practice more prolifically than nearly any other world leader, and it stands to reason that if the nations of NATO are looking for a language that might allow them to get through to the Russian dictator, this is it. If Putin is so willing to exercise his own strategic ambiguity and so confident that his adversaries will hear the message he’s trying to send, then surely he should be able to recognize it and respond appropriately when it’s being used against him.

In fact, one could argue that it’s directly as a result of Macron’s introduction of ambiguity around NATO troop deployment that Russia felt it was worth staging military exercises around the possible deployment of tactical nuclear weapons. Macron made a strategically ambiguous threat—a will-they-won’t-they scenario about NATO boots on the ground in Ukraine—and Russia responded with a will-they-won’t-they about nuclear escalation. Both sides have agreed upon a mutually intelligible language and can speak to each other clearly again, even if what they’re talking about is the stuff of nightmares. You’ve still got to start somewhere, and Macron’s chosen starting point, although brash and defiant, appears to have registered with Moscow.

Macron as the Messenger

Moving on from strategic ambiguity, it’s also worth asking whether Macron is the right messenger for such an approach. If Europe is going to be strategically ambiguous, then that’s one thing, but is this guy really the face of Europe’s unified strategic posture? Surely it would be no surprise for Macron to be dismissed by his allies, just as he’s been dismissed before. Germany is clearly quite happy to shout him down. Britain and America have the sway within NATO to override what Macron says, and Poland and the Baltics have historically been quite happy to insist that he’s not gone far enough in facing down Russia.

He’s a known contrarian, one who’s been all too willing to go against the broader will of NATO before, and he’s even been more than a little buffoonish at times. Depending on one’s perspective, Macron could even be dismissed for clout chasing, trying to monopolize global headlines before an election at the expense of his NATO allies.

But the same drawbacks that make Macron an imperfect messenger to convey the unified will of NATO also sort of make him the ideal messenger to convey strategic ambiguity. Whatever Vladimir Putin might think of Macron, whatever internal memos and dossiers the Kremlin has on him, it’s difficult for Moscow to be certain that it’s reading the situation correctly. Macron might be way out on his own, spouting nonsense and then calling relatively friendly NATO leaders and begging for them to back him up. Or maybe at that original meeting of NATO leaders all the way back in February, this was the exact plan they devised, complete with choreographed pushback from Olaf Scholz and a slow warming to the idea from Poland and the Baltics.

Either extreme is possible, and so is everything in between. It’s ambiguous. That’s the entire point. Macron’s unpredictability, his geopolitical inconsistency—there are arguments in his favor here, making this ambiguity meaningful in a way that it probably wouldn’t be from Biden or Sunak or Scholz. Macron has all the sway of being a big name within NATO, plus all the roguish reputation and history that should make Putin rightly hesitant to take him at his word. In a way, Macron even has the same effect on his NATO allies, adopting uncertainty for right-wing strategists in the United States who might otherwise have been looking to abandon NATO if former President Donald Trump is re-elected to office. Not only is Putin forced to reckon with the idea that NATO troops could show up in Ukraine, but a prospective Trump administration has to contend with a NATO that might see U.S. abandonment on the horizon and start sending troops to the front lines preemptively in order to keep the U.S. engaged and interested in Europe’s survival.

The Ultimate Question: Is It Worth the Risk?

And finally, there’s the question looming over all of this: even if strategic ambiguity works, even if Macron is the right guy to send the message, is it worth the risk? After all, the problem with strategic ambiguity is that while an adversary will hopefully be cautious in dealing with you, you also can’t say for sure that they’ll react how you wish. By introducing uncertainty, Macron and his allies have to welcome uncertainty around the response they’ll get from Russia. And in this case, some of Russia’s potential responses could be escalatory or even nuclear. Not to mention, if NATO bluffs that its own troops might end up in Ukraine, Russia is welcome to call that bluff and see whether NATO is actually willing to put its money where its mouth is.

Whether you or any other person considers such a response likely or unlikely, the possibility is undeniably there. As for whether a policy that leaves room for escalation is ever well-advised, that’s up to each of the nations that make up the alliance. But for the rest of NATO to sit back and condemn Macron for raising the proposition that alliance troops might be sent into harm’s way isn’t entirely fair. Months ago, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz strongly implied that British and French soldiers were already in Ukraine, assisting with targeting and the guidance of cruise missiles. Elsewhere, it’s broadly regarded as an open secret that special forces from both nations, as well as the United States, are gathering intelligence and training troops in Ukraine and also taking part in defensive cyber warfare operations.

Citizens of many nations are on both sides of Ukraine’s battlefields, and NATO’s hallmark weapons—its Abrams and Leopard tanks, its F-16s, its long-range missiles, and more—all make NATO’s presence known on the front lines, while the war has become a testing ground for all sorts of new combat systems and hardware. NATO’s other nations can certainly be upset at Macron for saying the quiet part out loud by raising the prospect of NATO boots on the ground, but to imply that Macron is pushing past some sacred untouchable boundary, well, quite frankly, that claim is just not credible. NATO troops are in harm’s way today, and the alliance has already provided Russia with innumerable reasons to raise hell if it chooses to. But every time Russia has held back from entering direct hostilities with NATO.

Compared to the hands-off approach NATO wanted at the start of the war, it’s easy to see how alliance troops on the front lines would send the risk of a confrontation through the roof. When the boundaries have been pushed so thoroughly and tested so many times, well, what’s one more? The war in Ukraine has been raging for two years now, and it’s easy to get lost in the details. But zoom out, and the tenuous balance of Europe today would have been unthinkable to the Europe of three years ago. Risks NATO never would have accepted it’s grown used to, and policies NATO member nations were convinced would be the death of them have instead turned out to be quite useful.

Now, with Ukraine’s defense starting to fracture and the idea of Russian encroachments on NATO-allied Europe unthinkable, the grim reality is that NATO troops on the front lines may be the difference maker between defeat, stalemate, and victory. So if a direct confrontation between NATO and Russia might be on the horizon anyhow, what’s the harm in a little bit of strategic ambiguity to see whether Russia might be willing to avoid such a possibility and all the ruin that seems sure to follow with it?

NATO has pushed past boundary after boundary after boundary. Whether or not Europe agrees with Macron’s approach, agreement is solidifying quickly on the continent that the war in Ukraine has got to be where Russia’s aggression ends. Let it continue, and NATO member nations increasingly agree, it will be the alliance’s own territory in the crosshairs in just a couple of years. Send NATO troops to Ukraine’s front lines, and that great showdown might be averted. Or it might be hastened along. We just can’t know for sure.

Ukraine cannot keep up its defense forever, and without NATO’s help bridging the gap in a major and yet unforeseen way, Ukraine doesn’t have more than a year before cascading defeats start to add up. Do something, and the situation in Europe could get very bad. Do nothing, and it will get very bad. If Emmanuel Macron is to be believed, then it may just be strategic ambiguity that can stand in the way. And if ambiguity fails, then NATO troops on the ground might be coming next anyhow. Best to plan for it and make sure that both Europe and Russia have no illusions about what may come next.

FAQ Section

Q1: What is the significance of Emmanuel Macron’s statements regarding NATO troops in Ukraine?

A1: Macron’s statements have introduced the possibility of NATO troops being deployed to Ukraine, challenging the traditional stance of avoiding direct confrontation with Russia. This has sparked debate and controversy within NATO and beyond, highlighting the tension between strategic deterrence and the risks of escalation.

Q2: Why has Macron emphasized strategic ambiguity in his approach to the Russia-Ukraine conflict?

A2: Strategic ambiguity involves intentionally remaining vague about one’s intentions to make adversarial leaders uncertain about future actions. Macron believes this approach can deter Russian aggression by keeping Putin uncertain about NATO’s potential responses, thus preventing a Russian victory in Ukraine.

Q3: How have other NATO countries reacted to Macron’s stance?

A3: Initial reactions were largely negative, with key NATO members like the USA, Germany, and Poland reaffirming that they would not send troops to Ukraine. However, over time, some countries like Estonia and the Czech Republic have voiced support for considering all options to aid Ukraine, reflecting a growing but cautious acceptance of Macron’s ideas.

Q4: What are the potential risks associated with Macron’s strategy?

A4: The primary risk is that strategic ambiguity could lead to miscalculation and unintended escalation, potentially drawing NATO into a direct conflict with Russia. This approach also faces domestic and international opposition, as many are wary of the dangers posed by increasing military involvement in Ukraine.

Q5: How does Macron’s approach fit into the broader context of European security and NATO’s future?

A5: Macron’s approach challenges the reliance on the United States for European security and advocates for a more autonomous European defense strategy. His stance aims to push Europe towards a strategic awakening, where European nations take greater responsibility for their own security and defense, reducing dependency on external allies.

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By Ryan Hite

Ryan Hite is an American author, content creator, podcaster, and media personality. He was born on February 3, 1993, in Colorado and spent his childhood in Conifer, Colorado. He moved to Littleton in 2000 and spent the remainder of his schooling years in the city. Upon graduation from Chatfield Senior High School in 2011, he attended the University of Colorado at Boulder. He graduated from the university in 2015 after studying Urban Planning, Business Administration, and Religious Studies. He spent more time in Colorado in the insurance, real estate, and healthcare industries. In 2019, he moved to Las Vegas, NV, where he continued to work in healthcare, insurance, and took his foray into media full time in 2021. His first exposure to the media industry came as a result of the experiences he had in his mid to late teens and early twenties. In 2013, he was compelled to collect a set of stories from his personal experiences and various other writings that he has had. His first book, a 365,000-word epic, Through Minds Eyes, was published in collaboration with Balboa Press. That initial book launched a media explosion. He learned all that he could about creating websites, marketing his published works, and would even contemplate the publication of other works as well. This book also inspired him to create his philosophy, his life work, that still influences the values that he holds in his life. Upon graduating college, he had many books published, blogs and other informative websites uploaded, and would embark on his continued exploration of the world of marketing, sales, and becoming an influencer. Of course, that did not come without challenges that would come his way. His trial-and-error approach of marketing himself and making himself known guided him through his years as a real estate agent, an insurance agent, and would eventually create a marketing plan from scratch with a healthcare startup. The pandemic did not initially create too many challenges to the status quo. Working from home did not affect the quality of his life. However, a series of circumstances such as continued website problems, social media shutdowns, and unemployment, caused him to pause everything between late 2020 and mid-2021. It was another period of loss of momentum and purpose for his life as he tried to navigate the world, as many people may have felt at that time. He attempted to find purpose in insurance again, resulting in failure. There was one thing that sparked his curiosity and would propel him to rediscover the thing that was gone from his life for so long. In 2021, he started his journey by taking on a full-time job in the digital media industry, an industry that he is still a part of today. It was at this point that he would also shut down the rest of the media that he had going at the time. In 2023, he announced that he would be embarking on what has become known as PROJECT30. This initiative will result in the reformation of websites, the reinvigoration of social media accounts, the creation of a Youtube channel and associated podcast, the creation of music, and the continued rediscovery of his creative potential. Unlike past projects, the purpose of this would not expound on the musings of a philosophy, the dissemination of useless news and articles, or the numerous attempts to be someone that he was not. This project is going to be about his authentic self. There are many ways to follow him as he embarks on this journey. Most of all, he wants everyone to be entertained, informed, and, in some ways, maybe a little inspired about the flourishing of the creativity that lies within the mind and soul of Ryan.

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