Heading into a weekend when many in France, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Italy, Norway, the United Kingdom and other nations will be remembering the many thousands of their people who fought and died or were seriously wounded fighting against tyranny before a model of collective defence in the form of the NATO transatlantic alliance was created in 1949, it is nothing short of repulsive to hear French President Emmanuel Macron describing NATO as being ‘brain dead’.
While unfounded and damaging remarks in relation to NATO are not that particularly unusual from President Macron, I am quite certain that he is not speaking here on behalf of the French people or indeed, those of the European Union.
This is a French president dreaming that one day the EU will be collective in respect of being the economic, political and military voice for all EU member states. Well, let me tell you very clearly, that will never happen.
In an interview given to the ‘Economist’ in London Macron challenged Europe to become “autonomous in terms of military strategy and capability”. He complained that Europe was suffering “exceptional fragility” as a result of US president Trump’s unilateralism saying also that “To my mind, what we are currently experiencing is the brain-death of NATO” and he warned European members that they could no longer rely on the US to defend the alliance, established at the start of the Cold War, to bolster Western European and North American security. Not surprisingly with the EU economy in tatters, he made no mention of the enormous potential cost or that Germany would be most unlikely to stand by his side in so doing.
Rarely have I heard such rubbish being talked by the elected most senior member and leader of an EU state. To question whether America still values all parts of the founding charter and particularly Article 5 which stipulates that an attack on one NATO member state will be seen as an attack on all and will see NATO produce a collective response.
While Macron is right to remind of the Trump unilateralism the US motive behind any remarks made by the US President was that Europe needs to pay more of the cost of its own defence. So, they should pay more for their own defence and indeed, over time will have no choice! Some Members of NATO in Europe are already rising to the challenge doing just that and never forget that the US continues to increase its military investments in Europe with more troops, exercises, working together in order to reassure and strengthen the concepts of collective e defence.
As Jens Stoltenberg himself said yesterday, “any attempt to distance us [Europe and NATO] from North America risks not only weakening the alliance, the transatlantic bond but also weakening Europe.
Thankfully and not surprisingly Macron’s words did not go down well with German Chancellor Angela Merkel who, speaking in Berlin alongside the visiting NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, accused the French President of using drastic words, one’s that she thought inappropriate saying that she did not think such sweeping judgements are necessary. “That is not my view of co-operation inside NATO” she said and even though we do have problems from a German perspective NATO is in our interest. It is our security alliance. I would consider that in saying what she did Mrs Merkel was also speaking for the vast majority of NATO member states.
Similarly, the UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said yesterday that while “Europe does need to wake up to the common security challenges that we all face the answer is for all European countries to meet their commitments to spending 2% of GDP on defence – the surest way to reinforce rather than weaken the transatlantic relationship.”
It is now ten years since France reluctantly re-joined NATO and the NATO Military Command Structure – mainly I believe for fear of being left out of the loop. If Macron doesn’t believe in NATO any longer, perhaps he would now do better to take France back out of NATO. Remember too that the EU is, particularly without Britain being a member, ill structured financially to be able to fund a very different form of collective European defence.
Neither would France ever in my view be able to carry more than half the number of EU member states to create and play an active part in collective defence outside of NATO.
Macron’s loathing of the current US president has clearly clouded his views. He is quoted as saying that the alliance “only works if the guarantor of last resort functions as such. I’d argue [he said] that we should reassess the reality of what NATO is in the light of the commitment of the United States”. Moving on, the French leader urged Europe to start thinking of itself as a “geopolitical power” to ensure it remained “in control” of its destiny. To all that I would say that President Roosevelt and his successor had it about right in how over two generations since 1940 they would mistrust the French.
While Macron is no danger to NATO yet he could well be in the future. With at least one Judas in the camp NATO also needs to watch its back but it should be clear on one thing, while Europe does need to pay more for the cost of its defence the Americas will never walk away from the NATO alliance.
CHW (London – 8th November 2019)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785