The interview of French President Emmanuel Macron with a reputable British publication The Economist has exploded the European media. President of one of the leading countries of the North Atlantic alliance declared “the brain death of NATO,” which he believes has brought Europe to the edge of a precipice.
The French leader suggests that the lack of cooperation between the US and other members of the alliance in strategic decision-making signifies such a discouraging diagnosis. The straw that broke Macron’s back was, of course, Washington’s decision to pull out its troops from Syria without any preliminary consultations with partners. Meanwhile, of all American allies France was the most active participant in the Syrian conflict, which repeatedly increased its group in the country’s north at the Pentagon’s request. The urgent withdrawal of their contingent from Syria following the US’ pullout could not but injure the French’s pride. The behavior of Turkey, which got out of hand, launching a military operation against the allies of NATO’s Kurdish group, only added fuel to the flames of Macron's outrage.
Speaking about NATO, French President stressed that the alliance can act only if its main guarantor takes its role seriously. “We should reassess the reality of what NATO is in light of the commitment of the United States,” he said. Time and again, Macron has urged Europe to start thinking of itself strategically as a geopolitical power and be in control of its destiny.
The global response to French President’s statements was predictable. German Chancellor Angela Merkel rejected the “sweeping judgements” used by Macron, though she acknowledged that the alliance has certain problems. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, as befits an official, said that the North Atlantic alliance has no alternatives as a basis of the European security. Warsaw and the Baltic states immediately dubbed Macron as “Putin’s agents,” whereas one of the Polish journalists went as far as direct insults on the French leader, calling him “Kremlin’s useful idiot.”
The majority of the block’s members preferred to keep mum more as a demonstration of tacit support of Macron’s position rather than dissent. Without judging the “brain death” words, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that NATO is the most important strategic partnership ever. Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova subscribed to Macron’s estimation, calling it “very true.”
Now what is happening with the biggest military integration in human history?
First, the relationship between the US and NATO’s ‘old-timers’ has deteriorated sharply, which is coupled with US President’s ultimatum demand from the allies to increase defense spending to the prescribed 2% of GDP. Donald Trump suggests that the European partners’ payment for the US’ ‘nuclear umbrella’ is insufficient, while the policy they pursue on a number of issues is hypocritical. For example, that relates to the Nord Stream 2 project, for which US President publicly lashed out against Stoltenberg. Merkel’s tired promises to boost Germany’s defense spending to 1.5% of GDP by 2024 and to 2% by 2031 do not work for Washington.
Second, the tensions between western European members of the alliance and young NATO states are notably rising. Particularly annoying to Old Europe is Poland, which poses as a ‘beloved wife’ of the overseas master.
Third, problems stemming from Turkey are mounting. Against all odds, Ankara has purchased cutting-edge S-400 surface-to-air missile systems from Russia, started a military operation in Syria’s north, whereas in response to shouts from NATO offices openly threatens to quit the block if its interests are undermined.
All that highlights the ongoing NATO’s dysfunction expressed in Macron’s drastic statements. The ambitious president of France striving for the role of unofficial leader of the Old Continent has repeatedly spoken for changing the approaches to the issues of European security. In 2017, he spearheaded the European Intervention Initiative, within which the creation of the European rapid response armed forces is planned.
The participation in the European Intervention Initiative currently confirmed by ten European states may become the first step in implementation of Macron’s global plan to form a common European army independent of the US. French President believes that such an army will be able to ensure Europe’s security amid the US’ unpredictable policy, which brings into question compliance to Article Five of NATO’s founding charter saying that aggression against one member of the alliance is regarded automatically as aggression against all members of the block.
It stands to reason that being the strongest and nuclear-armed, the military forces of France will have the key role in the common European army. For his part, Emmanuel Macron will have good reason to claim for the role of a major geopolitical figure and rank with the great Charles de Gaulle, who led France out of the NATO military organization back in February 1966 being reluctant to cater Washington’s interests.
The NATO summit in London in December this year will celebrate 70 years since the founding of the North Atlantic alliance. It will see summarizing the results of the organization’s operations and discussing today’s challenges and the plans announced by Stoltenberg to turn NATO into the key pillar of stability for the coming years. With the diagnosis determined by Macron, the implementation of such plans triggers many questions, and even the greatest Euro-Atlantic believers realize that the clinking of glasses at the celebration banquet will not stifle them.