By Elisabeth Hellenbroich
In a prelude to the NATO Heads of State and Government summit that will take place in London December 3 to 4, a stormy debate has broken out in Europe concerning the future role of NATO and the EU. The trigger for the heated debate was set by an interview which the British Magazine “The Economist” conducted with French President Emanuel Macron (published November 7) in which he had among others qualified NATO as “brain dead” and in which he challenged Europe to redefine the role of NATO and look for a more sovereign policy while at the same time calling for a new dynamic in the dialogue with Russia.
In a common press conference with NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg at the Presidential Elysée Palace in Paris (November 28th), the French President qualified his remarks in the interview as a “wake up call” that he wanted to deliver and called for a “clear-sighted and robust dialogue with Russia in order to guarantee peace and stability in Europe,” i.e. develop together with Russia a new “security architecture for Europe” in the post-INF- treaty situation. It should be noted that on November 9th the President will host a summit in the “Normandy Format” (Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France) in Paris in order to look for further solutions in the conflict with Ukraine.
Aside the fact that the Russian proposal (moratorium on intermediate-and shorter-range missile deployment) was immediately rejected by NATO, there was a good deal of irritation expressed by both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who in different speeches expressed their disagreement with Macron’s general remarks and stated that the “transatlantic relations” with Washington should not be put into question. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in a speech in front of the Friedrich- Ebert- Stiftung expressed “concern” about the attempt to “decouple the American from European security,” commenting that Macrons ideas would “divide” Europe, while he urged at the same time that the transatlantic partnership should be better balanced.
Macron has the guts to pose the right questions
President Macron is so far the only statesman in Europe who has the guts to openly challenge and discuss the geopolitical changes which have taken place during the last years within Europe and NATO and who has clearly identified American President Trump’s erratic policy and geopolitical maneuvering in respect to Europe. He is furthermore the only European statesman who since months has been arguing in favor of a new policy vis a vis Russia’s President Putin (since the G7 summit in Biarritz August 27). He has essentially “challenged” what he correctly perceives as a certain “stand still” in Europe in respect to NATO and to Russia, which according to Macron should not be seen as enemy but as partner for dialogue and cooperation, in order to solve many geopolitical problems and crisis.
It is noteworthy that from the Russian Newsletter “Valdai News” edited by the prestigious “Valdai Club” some comments were made – among them by Pascal Boniface, the founder of the “Institute of International Relation and Strategic Affairs” in Paris. Boniface who is portrayed as a “Valdai Club expert” commented in an article in Valdai News, that Macron “has rocked the boat” when he stated that NATO is suffering from “brain death” as well as stating that President Trump does not share the idea of a European Project. “What he simply did was just describing the situation as it is,” Boniface commented. Boniface points to what is called the “Thucydides trap”(notion to capture the idea that the rivalry between an established power and a rising one often ends in war e.h.) existing between the US administration and China. Boniface and stated that “the EU is not obliged to take sides and should find better ways to protect its own interests. Europe must avoid following blindly Washington.”
Macron calls Europe “a political project” as community
Looking at Europe as the “greatest geographical concentration of cultural and linguistic diversity”, he underlined in the challenging interview with “The Economist” that over the last 70 years, even if Europe experienced the most brutal conflict in its entire history, a “civilizational miracle” occurred, “a political equation free of hegemony which permits peace.” After the war Europe was built on the union for coal and steel and “structured itself as a community which is not merely a market but a political project”, he said.
The problem however, according to Macron, is that Europe has “lost track of its history” and has forgotten that it is a “community”, by increasingly thinking of itself as a market, with expansion as its purpose. This is a fundamental mistake, Macron stated, since it has s reduced the political scope of its project, essentially since the 1990ies. “A market is not a community.” Moreover he adds that Europe was basically built to be the “Americans’ junior partner” (with the US as ultimate guarantor of a system and of a balance of values, based on preservation of world peace and the dominance of western values). The price to pay for that was NATO and support of the European Union. Yet, Macron stressed, during the last years the “US position has fundamentally changed.” While the US is “withdrawing”, we “find ourselves for the first time with an American President who doesn’t share our idea of the European project and American policy is diverging from this project.”
Macron proposes therefore a concept of Europe, which is based on the notion of “European military and technological sovereignty.” Given the change in American strategy, which goes hand in hand with the emergence of China as a major power and the reemergence of authoritarian powers, essentially Turkey and Russia which are two main players in our neighborhood policy, and the consequences of the Arab spring, which has created turmoil, Macron emphasizes that “all of this has led to the exceptional fragility of Europe.” If Europe “can’t think of itself a global power (it) will disappear, because it will take a hard knock,” he warned. He also added to this what he perceives as an “internal European crisis, an economic, social, moral and political crisis that has begun 10 years ago.” Many governments in Europe are ruled by “fragile majorities” and tough social crisis go along with this for example in France but also other European countries, he stated. And he warned “if Europe doesn’t wake up and decides to do something about it, there is a considerable risk that in the long run we will disappear geopolitically!”
Europe must regain its military sovereignty
A major aspect in the interview was Macron’s focus on the need for Europe to “regain its military sovereignty.” He reported that since he came into office (2017), things were pushed on a Franco- German level and at a European level. He mentioned the “European Intervention Initiative” launched by France (EI2- a project between 14 European countries outside the existing structures of NATO and the EU), which is based on defense cooperation. At the same time he warned that “we are experiencing the brain death of NATO”. The reason for this being that there is “essentially no coordination whatsoever of strategic decision making between the United States and its NATO allies.” He adds to this the “uncoordinated” aggressive actions by another NATO ally, Turkey, “in an area where our interests are at stake.”
Macron calls upon Europe to 1. “Become autonomous in terms of military strategy and capability.” 2.Macron demands the opening of a “strategic dialogue” with Russia. “This means that we need to re-appropriate our neighborhood policy; we cannot let it be managed by third parties who do not share the same interests.” In the interview Macron referred to the fact that “originally NATO was created in response to the Warsaw Pact and in 1990ies we didn’t reassess this geopolitical project in the slightest when our initial enemy vanished.” What instead remained was the “unarticulated assumption is that the enemy is still Russia (…). So the present purpose of NATO is a real question that needs to be asked, particularly from the United States.” Macron stated that President Trump sees NATO as a “commercial project,” a project in which the United States acts as a sort of geopolitical umbrella, “but the trade- off is that there has to be commercial exclusivity, it’s an arrangement for buying American products. France didn’t sign up for that.”
Macron demands that European defense becomes complementary to NATO and must become stronger and take increasingly responsibility for more of what he calls “our neighborhood policy”. Redefining NATO should also be seen in the right technological context such as artificial intelligence, data, digital technology and 5 G, all forms of technology which are both civilian and military. He further underlined that he believed that Europe will only be respected if it reconsiders its own “sovereignty.” Europe has to think of itself as a balancing power, where a lot of investment and expansion should be made.
Europe and Russia – build architecture of trust and security
Macon describes Russia as a country which has the size of a continent with a vast land mass but with a declining and ageing population. A country whose GDP is the same size as Spain’s, which is rearming at the double, more than any other European country. Outlining several options that he thinks are possible for Russia (rebuilding itself as superpower, the Eurasian model), he speaks about Russia’s possibility to “re-establish a policy of balance with Europe.” Given all what was perceived from Putin’s point of view, including the NATO expansion right up to Russia’s borders, the Ukraine experience, Macron concludes that in the long terms he sees the option for Russia developing a “partnership project” with Europe. “If we want to build peace in Europe to rebuild European strategic autonomy, we need to reconsider our position with Russia.”
The French President stated furthermore: “What I’ve proposed is an exercise that consists of stating how we see the world, the risks we share, the common interest we could have, and how we rebuild what I’ve called ‘architecture of trust and security’.” Practically it means “that we’re aligned on the terrorist issue.” This implies cooperation between the respective intelligence services, having a “shared” vision of the threat” and “intervening” perhaps in a more coordinated way against Islamist terrorism throughout our neighborhood. There should be common interest to resolve frozen conflicts and look at all the frozen conflicts in the region and both sides should explain its position: “Which issues can we work on together? Which issues can we decide no longer to attack each other on? On which issues can we decide to reconcile? Already sharing, we have more discussions. And I think it’s very productive.”