Merkel rejects Macron warning over Nato ‘brain death’

Source: Financial Times

French president Emmanuel Macron has opened a rift with Germany and other Nato allies after he warned that the transatlantic security alliance was at the point of “brain death” and called for a rethink of its purpose weeks ahead of a vital summit. German chancellor Angela Merkel rejected Mr Macron’s “sweeping blow” against the alliance, in which he strongly criticised a lack of strategic co-ordination between the US and other Nato allies over the invasion of Syria last month by Turkey, one of its members.

“The French president has chosen drastic words. That is not my view of co-operation inside Nato . . . even if we do have problems and even though we do have to get our act together,” Ms Merkel said. “From a German perspective, Nato is in our interest. It is our security alliance.” Jens Stoltenberg, Nato’s secretary-general, also dismissed Mr Macron’s criticism that Europe needed to “regain military sovereignty”. The French president also said Nato had to acknowledge the “instability of our American partner”, after repeated warnings from US president Donald Trump that he was unhappy with the state of the 70-year-old security alliance. “European allies are stepping up, increasing the readiness of their forces, investing more in defence.

The United States is increasing its presence in Europe with more troops and more exercises . . . so the reality is that we do more together and we have strengthened our collective defence,” Mr Stoltenberg said. He added: “Any attempt to distance Europe from North America risks not only to weaken the alliance and the transatlantic bond but also to divide Europe. Therefore we have to stand together.” Mr Macron’s comments, in an interview with The Economist, were published ahead of a Nato summit in the UK next month, which is being framed as a celebration of the alliance’s 70th anniversary but is also set to be marked by tension between its 29 members.

European Nato countries and Germany in particular have previously come under fire from Mr Trump, who has amplified longstanding US criticisms of the failure of allies to spend more on their militaries. Mr Trump branded Nato “obsolete” while campaigning to be president. Mr Macron said “Europe must become autonomous in terms of military strategy and capability”, and complained that Europe was suffering “exceptional fragility” as a result of US unilateralism under Mr Trump, the rise of China, Turkey and Russia and the turmoil in the Middle East. He added: “The instability of our American partner and rising tensions have meant that the idea of European defence is gradually taking hold . . . we will at some stage have to take stock of Nato. “To my mind, what we are currently experiencing is the brain death of Nato. We have to be lucid.”

Jonathan Eyal, an expert on European security at the London-based Royal United Services Institute, said Mr Macron’s claims about the alliance were “simply untrue” and damaging to his wider agenda of pursuing closer defence co-operation within Europe. “It would do him good to come off his high horse in Paris and look at the facts,” Dr Eyal said. “Comments like this are not going to improve the chances of accelerating a cohesive, European defence structure among his allies . . . This will scare them off. He’s trying to establish himself as the thought leader in Europe but I think he’s in danger of very quickly becoming the wrecker of European programmes.” Claudia Major, a defence analyst at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, praised Mr Macron’s analysis but said his tone would alienate central and eastern Europe states that saw Nato’s collective defence commitment as an essential deterrent to Russia.

“If Macron would like to have those countries on board, then you have to pay a little bit of attention to their mindset,” Ms Major said. “If someone like Macron says, ‘I don’t think this works’, that’s champagne on ice in Moscow.” In the interview, Mr Macron also warned that by moving too slowly to assert its sovereignty on the economic and commercial front, the EU risked leaving its 5G telecoms infrastructure in the hands of Chinese business and its data in the hands of US tech companies. “The result is that if we just allow this to continue, in 10 years’ time no one will be able to guarantee the technological soundness of your cyber systems, no one will be able to guarantee who processes the data, and how, of citizens or companies,” he said.

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