0855 GMT February 29, 2020
“The French president has chosen drastic words. This is not my view of cooperation within NATO,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters when asked about Macron’s comments, which were published earlier Thursday in an interview with The Economist. She described the alliance as “irreplaceable,” Bloomberg reported.
The French president has been pushing hard for Europe to build up its own defense capacity and a more independent foreign policy, rather than rely on the US and NATO alone. That is a project where he has found traction in Germany, among other countries.
But in Thursday’s interview he appeared to go further, calling for a wholesale change in Europe’s security architecture, in which NATO’s future role was unclear.
“What we are currently experiencing is the brain death of NATO,” Macron said. He described fading US commitment and lack of consultation – especially under President Donald Trump – as undermining the foundations of the alliance and forcing Europe to rethink its security.
“I don’t know, but what will Article Five mean tomorrow?,” Macron said, asked if he thought the collective defense clause no longer worked. If Syrian government forces were to retaliate against NATO member Turkey over its recent cross-border military incursions, “will we commit ourselves under it?”
“Will he,” Macron asked of Trump, “be prepared to activate solidarity? If something happens at our borders? It’s a real question.”
Despite Trump’s rhetoric, US commitments of troops and money to Europe’s defense have increased at a faster pace, and NATO has been more active in deploying forces for potential collective defense during his administration, than at any time since the end of the Cold War.
Defense spending by NATO members has also been increasing more quickly, a development for which Trump has been quick to claim credit.
“We do work, we modernize more and we invest more than we did for decades,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters on Thursday. “The US is realizing that NATO is important to them.” The White House didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, on a visit to Germany, also pushed back when asked about Macron’s interview. “I think NATO remains an important, critical perhaps historically one of the most critical strategic partnerships in all of recorded history,” he said, adding that he was glad to hear of alliance members committing to meet its 2% of gross domestic product defense spending target.
Still, Trump, has pushed traditional allies away in pursing his “America First” agenda. He has called the European Union a “foe,” which is “almost as bad as China, just smaller,” and flirted with the idea of leaving NATO if members didn’t contribute enough money.
Macron said US commitment to NATO began to weaken long before Trump took office, and given the rise of China, was in fact “astute.” A security system built around a benign and fully engaged US after World War II was “changing its underlying philosophy,” he said.
“You have partners together in the same part of the world, and you have no coordination whatsoever of strategic decision-making between the United States and its NATO allies,” Macron said, in a reference to Trump’s recent decision to green light Turkey’s operation in Syria, by withdrawing US troops from the target area. “You have an uncoordinated aggressive action by another NATO ally, Turkey, in an area where our interests are at stake.”
Change of priorities
In an early sign of how the French president would like to see an autonomous European foreign policy change priorities, he has called for re-engagement with Russia, still under EU sanctions for Crimea’s reunification with Russia and Russia’s alleged military support for insurgents in Eastern Ukraine.
“Because what all this shows is that we need to re-appropriate our neighborhood policy, we cannot let it be managed by third parties who do not share the same interests,” Macron said in the interview. He said he saw Europe as a balancing power between others: “To put it very simply, we have the right not to be outright enemies with our friends’ enemies.”
Russia signaled its pleasure at developments. President Vladimir Putin is impressed by Macron’s approach to relations, which is “much more thoughtful” than the “Russophobic apocalyptic scenarios” heard from many experts, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Friday on a conference call.
As for NATO’s health, “it’s not for us to decide whether NATO is alive or dead, or which parts of the body of this alliance are in a comatose state,” Peskov said. “We are not pathologists.”