First, Donald Trump branded NATO obsolete; now Emmanuel Macron has called it brain dead.
With allies like these, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg might be tempted to do vodka shots with Vladimir Putin.
Instead, with a NATO leaders’ summit scheduled in London in less than a month, and the alliance still reeling from unilateral military action by the U.S. and Turkey in northern Syria, Stoltenberg will head to Washington this week. He will meet Trump and other U.S. leaders, as well as receive a “Diplomat of the Year Award” from the editors of Foreign Policy magazine.
The trip suggests that Stoltenberg still views the U.S. — NATO’s biggest contributor militarily and financially — as his primary focus, even after he convinced Trump that NATO was no longer obsolete, and that European allies were drastically raising their military spending in response to pressure from Washington. (Many allies would say the increases were pledged well before Trump took office.)
But even as Stoltenberg continues his efforts to keep Trump squarely on-side, the recent comments by Macron in an interview with The Economist highlighted an increasing unwillingness of European allies to remain quiet as Trump’s unilateral actions appear to undermine NATO and to have damaged the global fight against the Islamic State, which is also known as Daesh.
To my mind, what we are currently experiencing is the brain death of NATO” — Emmanuel Macron, French president
In the interview, published on Thursday, Macron noted that efforts to improve European defense cooperation were gaining traction.
“The instability of our American partner and rising tensions have meant that the idea of European defense is gradually taking hold,” Macron said. “It’s the aggiornamento for a powerful and strategic Europe. I would add that we will at some stage have to take stock of NATO. To my mind, what we are currently experiencing is the brain death of NATO. We have to be lucid.”
Pressed on what he meant by brain dead, Macron issued a blistering critique of Trump’s unilateral pullout of forces from northern Syria, and the ensuing chaos, which he said showed NATO to be coming apart at the seams.
“Just look at what’s happening,” 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. None. You have an uncoordinated aggressive action by another NATO ally, Turkey, in an area where our interests are at stake. There has been no NATO planning, nor any coordination. There hasn’t even been any NATO deconfliction.”
He continued, “A meeting is coming up in December. This situation, in my opinion, doesn’t call into question the interoperability of NATO which is efficient between our armies, it works well in commanding operations. But strategically and politically, we need to recognize that we have a problem.”
Macron also appeared to cast doubt on the viability of NATO’s Article 5 collective defense pact.
Asked if he suspects Article 5 doesn’t work, he replied: “I don’t know, but what will Article Five mean tomorrow? If the Bashar al-Assad regime decides to retaliate against Turkey, will we commit ourselves under it? It’s a crucial question. We entered the conflict to fight against Daesh. The paradox is that both the American decision and the Turkish offensive have had the same result: sacrificing our partners who fought against Daesh on the ground, the Syrian Democratic Forces. That’s the crucial issue. From a strategic and political standpoint, what’s happened is a huge problem for NATO.”
An extraordinary meeting of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS will take place in Washington on Thursday, and Stoltenberg is scheduled to attend. He is also due to meet Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Macron’s remarks appeared to reflect genuine anger and frustration, but he might also be betting that Trump’s contrarian nature will now make it less likely that the U.S. president will himself attack NATO at the London leaders’ meeting.
NATO at least got a bit of a back-handed compliment from Josep Borrell, the Spanish foreign minister who is set to become the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs. In an interview with Le Monde, published Friday, Borrell sought to minimize Macron’s criticism.
“An affirmation so categorical must be judged in the framework of a long interview,” Borrell said when asked about the “brain death” remark.
“It reflects the difficulties of the current strategic context, particularly in Syria,” Borrell continued. “However, for the majority of European states today, there is no alternative to NATO for their territorial defense. The words of the President of the Republic also reflect the urgency for Europe to move forward with determination in the development of its own defense capabilities, in order to be able to face the conflicts that affect it as closely as possible.”