France's Macron remains isolated in NATO as leaders bash his comments

Published 03.12.2019 18:04
Updated 04.12.2019 01:09

French President Emmanuel Macron's recent remarks on NATO that criticized the organization for its collective defense seem to have backfired as world leaders and diplomats expressed disappointment, leaving the French president alone with his thoughts.

The latest criticism came from U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday as he took aim at Macron. Speaking to reporters before attending the NATO summit in London, Trump told reporters that Macron's comments were "very nasty" when he lamented the "brain death" of the organization due in large part to a lack of U.S. leadership.

Earlier this month, Macron called NATO "brain dead" in an interview with The Economist weekly. He also expressed doubts about the applicability of the principle of collective defense, explaining that the U.S. showed signs of "turning its back" on its military allies as it had "demonstrated starkly with its unexpected troop withdrawal from northeastern Syria last month." He also decried NATO's inability to react to Turkey's Operation Peace Spring and said it was time Europe stopped acting like a "junior."

He urged Europe to rethink its "strategic power" and regain "military sovereignty."

Macron spoke on the issue once again yesterday during a press conference with Trump after a bilateral meeting, saying that he stands by his remarks, although they "shook up" a lot of people.

"Sometimes he'll say things that he shouldn't say," Trump said. "Sometimes I think he does things that are counterproductive for his own country," he added.

Macron's statements also received major backlash from Ankara.

"We do not know what France means for NATO but Turkey, with its second-largest army [in NATO], is its most important member. No one should doubt that. If it was not for Turkey, terrorists would be heading to Europe," President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Friday.

"Macron should check his own head before declaring NATO brain dead," Erdoğan underlined in a rebuff of Macron, adding that, fortunately, there are sensible politicians in NATO and the EU.

Macron's interview was published during a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg to Germany, marking the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas discussed these developments with the leaders, proposing a new "expert group" to rejuvenate the military alliance following the foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels.

Stoltenberg on Monday also called on France to re-commit itself to the alliance's doctrine of collective defense.

Ahead of the summit in London, he told German public broadcaster ARD that NATO is "by far the strongest military power in the world" as a result of Article 5 in its charter, which states that an "armed attack" against one or more members in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against all members.

Stoltenberg stressed that all allies, including France, must abide by their "contract obligation."

Article 5 is the "heart of NATO," stressed Stoltenberg, adding that no potential adversaries would attack NATO members as long as they knew that aggression toward any ally would provoke retaliation from the entire alliance.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte also said yesterday that Macron is right and Europe needs to step up its defenses, but the "brain dead" comments on NATO had gone too far.

According to a high-level European diplomatic source who talked to Anadolu Agency on Monday, with these comments, Macron has isolated himself within NATO.

"NATO needs to go through a self-reflective process because the world is changing. But it has nothing to do with the French president's arguments," the high-level diplomat said.

"Macron's questioning the cornerstone of NATO isn't good rhetoric to build coalitions. It united every member state, even those who sometimes voice criticism about the alliance," the source said, referring to the military alliance's commitment toward collective defense enshrined in Article 5 of the NATO charter.

"Based on Foreign Minister Maas' proposal, NATO will engage soon in a process of reflection. It is neither a review nor a revolution because the foundations of the alliance are solid," the European diplomat confirmed.

France will not contribute to the rebalancing of the relatively small budget that finances salaries and operations at NATO headquarters in Brussels, as well as other annual expenses.

This rebalancing reduces the U.S. contribution to the common funding budget from 22% to 16%. From 2021, NATO member states will contribute an amount based on their gross national income. Germany pledged to cover the French opt-out. The alliance's common funding amounts to 0.3% of the NATO countries' total defense budget.

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