France’s Macron decries NATO ‘brain death’ ahead of anniversary

France's President Emmanuel Macron during the 2018 NATO Summit in Brussels, Belgium, 12 July 2018. [EPA-EFE/TATYANA ZENKOVICH]

European countries can no longer rely on the United States to defend NATO allies, French President Emmanuel Macron warned in an interview on Thursday (7 November), only weeks ahead of a meeting of NATO leaders in London, supposed to mend the widening cracks in the Western military alliance.

“What we are currently experiencing is the brain death of NATO,” Macron was quoted as saying in an interview with British weekly The Economist, published on Thursday (7 November).

“You have no coordination whatsoever of strategic decision-making between the United States and its NATO allies. None,” the French leader complained.

“You have an uncoordinated aggressive action by another NATO ally, Turkey, in an area where our interests are at stake,” he added, according to the interview transcript.

Macron’s remarks are likely to send shock waves through the Alliance – which has been plagued for months by squabbles over burden-sharing and strategic choices – as well as across the EU, which prompted comments from an senior EU official on Thursday:

“The institutional relationship between EU-NATO is one thing, the bilateral relations with allies are the other – and it is very important to make that distinction, although there is sometimes the tendency to bring that together,” the official told reporters in Brussels.

“Actually, we’re having quite a lot of discussions with the US on security and defence issues and there is a good dialogue at present. I don’t think that our EU relations with NATO are impacted in any way by that as we have developed a solid institutional framework.”

Cracks in the military alliance have emerged after NATO member Turkey began its offensive in Syria in October, with EU governments threatening sanctions against Ankara.

Also in October, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg had warned the military alliance should not lose its unity in the fight against Daesh (IS), in light of Turkey’s military operation against Kurdish militants in northeastern Syria.

However, at the time, Alliance members had been increasingly concerned that the situation could develop into an Article 5 scenario if the Syrian army or allied actors respond militarily to the Turkish offensive.

Article 5 states that an attack against one NATO member is considered as an attack against all allies and impels allies to come to one another’s aid.

A divide between European NATO members and Turkey widened further as EU foreign ministers in a common position advised bloc members to stop arms exports to Ankara, while NATO defence ministers had to acknowledge there was little they could do to restrain their strategically important ally.

Turkey and the US had made their decisions without consulting with their fellow NATO partners and the move caught NATO’s leading European powers – France, Britain and Germany – by surprise, infuriating the French leader who had long been pressing for closer European defence cooperation and ‘strategic autonomy’.

“You have no coordination of the United States’ strategic decision with NATO’s partners and we are witnessing aggression led by another NATO partner, Turkey, in an area where our interests are at stake, without coordination,” Macron said in the interview, calling on NATO for strategy clarifications.

“We should reassess the reality of what NATO is in the light of the commitment of the United States,” he warned, adding that “In my opinion, Europe has the capacity to defend itself.”

Macron argued that Europe could do this if “it accelerates the development of European defence.”

At the same time, he urged European countries, which he said were on “the edge of a precipice,” to toughen up quickly to become a “geopolitical power.”

Asked whether he still believed in the Article 5 collective defence pledge, Macron replied “I don’t know”, calling into question NATO’s bedrock principle, only weeks ahead of its 70th-anniversary meeting in London next month.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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