Yes, French President Emmanuel Macron appears to have an idée fixe concerning the medical condition of NATO.
In late 2019, Macron’s comments on the “brain death” of the alliance came as a shock, and possibly a welcome wake-up call.
But on Monday (22 June), he repeated his claim, following the latest incident, involving NATO members France and Turkey, that took place several weeks ago.
Last week Paris accused Turkey of harassing a French ship off the coast of Libya as it was carrying out checks on a Turkish ship that it suspected of breaking a UN arms embargo on Libya.
A French defence ministry account of the encounter said the French ship had wanted to check if the Turkish vessel Cirkin was smuggling arms to Libya. In response, French officials said, the Cirkin switched off its tracking system, masked its ID number, and refused to say where it was going.
Meanwhile, Turkey denied it ever happened.
French Minister for the Armed Forces, Florence Parly, raised the matter at a NATO ministerial last week, eight European countries supported her request and the recent naval incident between France and Turkey in the Mediterranean has now indeed become the subject of an investigation by NATO military authorities.
But it also revived the ghost that has been haunting the alliance since last year.
For the record: this was another rather unfriendly encounter between two allied countries, and once again Turkey is in the hot seat.
In late 2019, Macron’s ‘brain death’ comments came as a reaction to the lack of coordination between the US and Europe over an offensive which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s troops launched in north-eastern Syria without consulting with NATO allies – but with the assent of US President Donald Trump.
The comment sent shock waves through the Alliance, which had already been plagued by squabbles over financial burden-sharing and strategic choices.
Fast-forward six months and, according to Macron, the recent Franco-Turkish naval incident represents “one of the most beautiful demonstrations that there is a brain death” of the alliance, a situation he deemed “intolerable”.
Macron also lashed out against Ankara and called its behaviour in the Mediterranean unacceptable, citing its meddling in Libya and disrespect for “the sovereignty of Cyprus”, in whose waters it wants to drill for oil and gas.
“It is not compatible either with international legality, or with what one is entitled to expect from a NATO member, or with the objectives which are ours as Europeans and bordering on the Mediterranean,” Macron added.
“As long as we, NATO members, Europeans, stakeholders in this subject, are weak in our words or lack clarity, we will let the game of non-cooperative powers play,” said Macron. “I do not want in six months, a year, two years, to have to see that Libya is in the situation of Syria today”.
Macron’s initial ‘brain death’ comment may have indeed served as a wake-up call: in March NATO announced the creation of a panel of 10 experts to determine NATO’s future.
But in the long-term, it might have opened a can of worms, one where NATO’s core tasks are seen as increasingly ‘obsolete’ by some – especially as US President Trump is pulling troops from Germany and may have even contemplated abandoning NATO entirely, according to recent revelations of his former national security advisor, John Bolton.
The truth is: the military side of NATO works actually quite well. The recent COVID-19 crisis response efforts coordinated by the alliance have proved that.
What is indeed missing is political vision and coherence. But Macron has so far done little to present his own ideas for how to actually fix things.
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Look out for…
- European Parliament’s SEDE Committee will hear Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton on impact of COVID-19 on the European defence industry
- Commissioner Didier Reynders addresses the conference “Safeguarding the Rule of Law in Europe” organised by the Polish Ombudsman Office and the German Institute for Human Rights
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