French President Emmanuel Macron defended his recent comments about the ‘brain death’ of NATO, arguing on Thursday that the alliance needed a wake-up call, despite a warning out of Germany that the remarks risked dividing Europe.
Macron made the comment in an interview with the Economist news magazine, following US and Turkish military actions in north-eastern Syria that were roundly criticised for jeopardising progress made there in the fight against the Islamic State extremist group.
‘The questions I asked are open questions that have not been resolved,’ Macron said at a press conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Paris, ahead of a NATO summit in London next week.
Macron pointed to strategic issues including peace in Europe, relations with Russia, NATO's difficult relationship with its ally Turkey and the question of who the shared enemy is.
‘The last two summits were devoted solely to working out how we could lighten ... the financial cost to the United States,’ Macron said, speaking of a ‘glaring disconnect’ between this debate and the challenges facing the alliance.
Stoltenberg, meanwhile, stressed that despite disagreements within the alliance, ‘the foundations of NATO are strong.’ ‘We will continue to adapt, continue to modernize, and together we will look on how we can further strengthen NATO's political role,’ the NATO chief said.
Earlier Thursday however, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned that Macron's negative remarks on NATO - coupled with a call for Europe to bolster its defence capabilities - risked dividing the continent.
‘Mental games about decoupling US and European security are causing me concern, and not only with respect to our own security,’ Maas said in Berlin.
‘I fear that they could divide Europe,’ he continued, in an address to an event arranged by Germany's Social Democratic Party.
In remarks to parliament in Berlin on Wednesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed Germany's commitment to NATO, saying her country had to take greater responsibility within the military alliance.
Germany's share of annual funding for NATO - covering expenses such as its Brussels headquarters - is set to rise to equal that by the United States from 2021, Stoltenberg confirmed on Thursday.
Germany has also pledged to increase its domestic military spending in response to sharp and persistent criticism from US President Donald Trump's administration.
The 29 members of the alliance are set to meet in London on Tuesday and Wednesday next week amid European concerns over US commitment to its European allies and worries over the reliability of Turkey, a key member on its south-eastern flank.
Macron also raised the issue of arms control on Thursday, after a key US-Russian treaty banning mid-range nuclear missiles ended this year, exposing Europe to new threats.
France had rejected a moratorium on such weapons offered by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Macron said, while adding that the offer should not be ‘dismissed out of hand’ as a basis for discussion. He more broadly reiterated his recent call for dialogue with Russia, ‘without any naivety.’ Putin had written to NATO two months ago proposing a continued moratorium on weapons covered by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, Russian state media quoted the Kremlin as saying.
But NATO rejected such an offer, arguing that Russia had already deployed missiles banned by the INF Treaty.
Macron also stressed that European countries must also be involved in the establishment of any future arms control treaty. ‘We cannot delegate our security to a bilateral accord that no European is party to,’ he noted.