Image Credit: President of Russia
In a recent interview with The Economist, Emmanuel Macron caused a diplomatic stir by stating how the world is currently witnessing the “brain death of NATO.” The French president continued by urging European nations to “wake up” to the geopolitical threat they face from the rise of China and other authoritarian regimes in Russia and Turkey. Most sobering of all, however, was the president’s comments on Article Five, the glue of the NATO alliance which states that an attack against one member is an attack against all. Asked whether he still had faith in this clause, Macron simply replied: “I don’t know.”
Prominent in Macron’s criticism of NATO was his attack on the Trump administrations ‘America First’ foreign policy. Despite the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, describing NATO as “perhaps historically one of the most critical, strategic partnerships in all recorded history,” Macron remains unconvinced of their commitment to the alliance. The French President told The Economist that “we should reassess the reality of what NATO is in the light of the commitment of the United States.” This is, of course, a clear rebuke of President Trump’s decision to pull troops out of Syria last month, leaving the Kurdish troops in the region to stand alone against Turkish invasion despite them previously being an ally of the US. This withdrawal was done without the consultation or consent of NATO. A key part of Trump’s foreign policy has also been about making the European nations contribute more towards the NATO budget, which has caused a further strain in the transatlantic alliance.
Macron’s public criticism of NATO was likely intended to make the European nations reconsider their commitment to the alliance in light of the US’s recent actions abroad and instead look towards the European Union to provide the militaristic stability needed. Macron, himself a passionate Europhile, has been highly vocal in the push towards the formation of a European army. The French President was remarkedly candid when addressing the dilemmas the EU now face, citing Brexit, an increasingly isolationist America and Europe’s lack of progression as key factors in the continent’s decline. Starkly, Macron ended by saying how Europe was on “the edge of a precipice” and that without considerable change, likely through further EU integration and reform, there is a considerable risk that Europe “will disappear geopolitically.”
Merkel distanced herself from Macron’s comments, labelling them “drastic words, that [were] not my view of cooperation in NATO”. However, it is hard to believe the German Chancellor does not share some similar points of view. Earlier this year, the NATO pledge pushed by the Trump administration to spend 2 per cent of GDP on defence led to budgetary gridlock within the Bundestag. Merkel has also been a key figurehead in the campaign led by Macron towards creating a European army to ensure Europe would not need NATO or the US to survive.
NATO secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, also took issue with Macron’s comments, saying that the alliance remained strong with European nations stepping up and investing more in defence. Stoltenberg also raised the point of how the US is actually increasing investment in Europe with more troops and deployments, and that “any attempt to distance us from North America risks not only weakening the alliance, the transatlantic bond, but also weakening Europe.” The Polish prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, echoed this sentiment, branding Macron as “irresponsible” for his comments and called on fellow European nations to lend more support to the alliance. Morawiecki also pointed out how France’s defence spending is below the 2 per cent of GDP agreed upon among NATO member states, hence “it’s not for the lack of US commitment to the alliance” that NATO is in poor shape, but rather the “lack of reciprocity on the part of some European allies.”
Regardless of whether Macron was irresponsible to make such comments about NATO, the fact that such a major power within Europe is vocally turning against the alliance is extremely significant for global geopolitics. It could also have ramifications for British security policy too. Especially important to the future of the situation is the question of the European army, and whether it is a realistic creation given the circumstance’ the European Union finds itself in. For the time being, however, with very little public support on the world stage for his comments, Macron will have to keep his commitment to the alliance or else risk ending up deeply isolated in global affairs.