Why France's president calls Syria 'the brain death of NATO'
French President Emmanuel Macron believes Europe is standing on the edge of a precipice and needs to think of itself as a power in the world in order to control its own destiny. He told the Economist the European alliance needs to "wake up" to the reality that the alliance and its deterrent is only as good as the guarantor of last resort – the United States. In his view, the United States is in danger of turning its back on NATO and Europe, just as it did to the Kurds in October 2019.
Along with the rise of China and the authoritarian turn of Russia and Turkey, Europe needs to act as a strategic power, perhaps without the US.
Macron spoke to the Economist for an hourlong interview from Paris' Elysée Palace and spoke bluntly about NATO, its future, and the United States.
"I'd argue that we should reassess the reality of what NATO is in the light of the commitment of the United States." he said. "... [President Trump] doesn't share our idea of the European project."
Europe faces myriad challenges that go far beyond the expectations of NATO and its American ally. Brexit looms large over European politics, while new EU membership is a point of contention within the European Union, especially in France. There is also much disagreement over how to engage with Russia, especially considering there are many NATO allies and EU members who used to be dominated by Moscow. But it wasn't just Trump's policy that concerned Macron.
"Their position has shifted over the past 10 years," Macron said. "You have to understand what is happening deep down in American policy-making. It's the idea put forward by President Obama: 'I am a Pacific president'."
That isn't to say Macron is rejecting the American alliance. France's president has taken a lot of time with Trump to keep that alliance closely engaged. But when the U.S. wants to go, it can go in the blink of any eye, just like it did in Syria. Meanwhile, Macron sees Europe as increasingly fragile in a hostile world, and he wants Europe (and France alone, if necessary) to be strong enough to stand up for itself.
"Our defence, our security, elements of our sovereignty, must be re-thought through," he said. "I didn't wait for Syria to do this. Since I took office I've championed the notion of European military and technological sovereignty... If it [Europe] can't think of itself as a global power, that power will disappear."
All it will take, he says, is one hard knock.
Germany expressed outrage at the comments, while Russia called them "Golden."
While some conceded that Macron has a point about the strategic coordination of the alliance, many others were angered by his remarks. In response, the November 2019 meeting of NATO held a discussion about the validity of the French president's description and what, if anything, they should do about it. Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg reminded reporters that week that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is the only body where North America and Europe sit together and make decisions together.
"I think it has value to look into how we can further strengthen NATO and the transatlantic bond," Stoltenberg said as he made plans to visit Paris in the coming days. "We need to look into this as we prepare for the upcoming leaders' meeting and then we will see what will be the final conclusions."
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