French President Emmanuel Macron's comments on the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) and his describing it as being in the throes of "clinical death" has sparked widespread controversy and elicited mixed reactions from leaders of major countries.
In an interview published in The Economist on Thursday November 7th, Macron criticised what he called "poor coordination between the United States and Europe and the unilateral behaviour adopted by Turkey, the Atlantic ally, in Syria… What we are experiencing now is the clinical death of Nato," he said.
President Trump, he said, "does not share our idea of the European project," adding that the US was showing signs of "turning its back on us," giving the example of the unexpected withdrawal of troops from northern Syria.
Macron said European members of the 29-member alliance should "reassess the reality of Nato in the light of US commitment," according to AP.
"There is no coordination of the strategic decision of the US with its Nato partners. We are witnessing aggression from another Nato partner, Turkey, in an area where our interests are at risk, without coordination… What happened is a big problem for Nato," he said.
The French president also expressed concern about the "extraordinary fragility of Europe," which he said would "disappear" if the Europeans did not think of themselves as a force in the world.
"I don't think I exaggerate things; I'm trying to be clear," said Macron, who saw three major risks facing Europe. "We forgot that Europe was a society by its gradually thinking of itself as a market,” he cited as his first concern.
The second danger for Macron is the US, which remains "our great ally, but looks elsewhere to China and the American continent, a transformation that began under Barack Obama… But for the first time we have an American president who does not share the idea of the European project, and American policy is not compatible with this project,” he said.
The French president’s third concern was the belief that rebalancing the world went hand in hand with the emergence of a Chinese power that had created the danger of bilateral polarisation and the marginalisation of Europe for fifteen years.
As a result, Macron believed that if Europeans did not wake up, the risk was so great that they were threatened with geopolitical disappearance or with not remaining masters of their own destiny.
In view of these circumstances, the French president questioned in particular the future of Article V of the Nato Treaty, which provides for military solidarity among members of the alliance in the event of one of them being attacked.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel responded to Macron's statement at a press conference on Thursday evening in Berlin with Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
Merkel said she "does not believe that Macron’s inappropriate comments were necessary, even if there were problems that had to be resolved for the alliance to recover." She said that "the extreme terminology of Macron does not correspond to my view on cooperation within Nato.”
Stoltenberg said that Nato remained strong, stressing that the US and Europe were cooperating more than ever.
In contrast, the spokesperson for Russian diplomacy Maria Zakharova wrote in a post on her Facebook page, that the French president's remarks were "words of gold, sincere, and reflect the precise definition of the current Nato situation."
In the same Economist interview, Macron criticised Russia, as “its model was unsustainable".
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told a news conference in Leipzig that Nato was "historically one of the most important strategic partnerships." He took the opportunity to remind the audience of Trump's request to Nato member states to “better share the burden of its funding”.
The US president described Nato as an "outdated" organisation in January 2017.
Deterioration of relations between members
Turkish-European relations, and Turkish-French relations in particular, have recently witnessed a marked decline, with intensified criticism of the Turkish military operation in northern Syria, by France.
Germany, the Netherlands and France announced last October that they were suspending all arms sales to Turkey. Ankara has warned that its attack on northern Syria threatens European security.
The EU, of which Turkey is still seeking membership, also condemned Turkish strikes on Kurds in north-eastern Syria.
Last October, the French Foreign Ministry summoned Turkey's ambassador to Paris following Ankara's military operation in Kurdish-controlled areas in northern Syria.
Upcoming meeting between Trump and Macron
Macron and Trump are expected to join their counterparts in London on December 3rd and 4th to attend a meeting of Nato leaders.
Trump has been highly critical of European countries, saying they are not spending enough on defence. He stressed that Washington will not continue to bear the financial burden of protecting European countries.
Known for his slogan “America First”, Trump said it was understandable that Washington would support weak states at the military level, but he is surprised that Europe does not allocate a more significant proportion of its gross domestic product (GDP) to military affairs.