French President Emmanuel Macron certainly ruffled a lot of feathers this week when he lamented the US-led NATO military alliance as being “brain dead”. But his comments were less about a principled or objective assessment of NATO, and more about self-aggrandizement by the French leader.
Macron, whose political ambition is suffused with reviving France as a global power, appears to be exploiting tensions in the transatlantic alliance in order to push his pet plan for creating a European Army.
With Britain leaving the European Union, the French president sees an opportunity for France becoming the lead power in Europe. His call for Europe to regain “military sovereignty” is aimed at enhancing French power as the top European military force.
In an interview with the London-based Economist, Macron said: “What we are currently experiencing is the brain death of NATO.” He went on to claim that the United States is relinquishing commitment to the alliance; that the US is “turning its back on us”; and that European states must therefore “wake up” to “be in control of our destiny”.
His comments drew swift rebuke from the US and other NATO members. German Chancellor Angela Merkel dismissed Macron’s words, saying they were “drastic”. She asserted that NATO was the “cornerstone of security” for Germany.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, while visiting Germany this week, said that NATO was “critically important” as ever and he reaffirmed America’s military commitment to Germany, where there are over 38,000 US troops based.
NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg, who spoke alongside Merkel in Berlin, also rejected Macron’s apparent disparagement of the alliance’s present status.
Given that leaders of NATO’s 29 member states are due to gather in London on December 3-4 to mark the 70th anniversary of the military bloc’s foundation in 1949, Macron’s interview comes at an awkward time. There is a sneaking suggestion the French leader deliberately aimed his media comments to spark controversy in his favor.
At a superficial level, Macron may appear to be making a valid point. Yes, it is true that US President Donald Trump has continually lambasted European members of NATO for what he derides as their lack of military spending. Trump has warned about withdrawing US support for NATO. This is typical “transactional” Trump taking the hump about perceived petty cost-sharing and his relentless griping about America being “ripped off”.
In spite of Trump’s harrumphing, there is no sign that “the US is turning its back” on NATO or Europe, as Macron claims. On the contrary, Washington is investing more troops, tanks and warplanes on European territory, especially in the Baltic states close to Russia’s border.
Trump may threaten to walk away from NATO in Europe, but the US political and military establishment know full well that is an idle threat. America’s geopolitical power relies on the transatlantic bond to Europe which is afforded by NATO – its intrinsic founding purpose. NATO is essential to Washington’s hegemony over Europe and in particular for the prevention of any convergence between Europe and Russia as strategic partners. Rhetoric about “defending Europe” from alleged Soviet and later Russian aggression is simply a pretext for American dominance over European politics.
Macron is thus being melodramatic in his death-knell pronouncements for NATO. When he says, “we are currently experiencing the brain death of NATO”, he is inferring a demise in American leadership. The supposed demise is only superficial due to Trump’s tetchy rhetoric. In every fundamental way, the NATO alliance and Washington’s strategic dependence on it as a structure for projecting American power over Europe is as paramount as ever.
It is telling that Macron cites the purported US troop pullout from Syria last month as evidence for his depiction of a waning NATO. Macron is aggrieved that France and other European states were not consulted by the American move “to abandon Kurdish allies”.
But those comments reveal Macron disingenuously “protesting too much”. When were European states ever consulted by their American NATO paymaster?
Washington has launched countless military invasions of foreign countries over the decades with hardly a call in advance for Europe’s “consultation”. It is the servile function of European members of NATO to simply follow orders and row in behind American troops on Washington’s imperialist conquests in order to give US criminality a veneer of “multilateralism” and “legitimacy”.
Therefore for Macron to bemoan NATO as a “current experience” of brain-death is an exaggeration. It has always been brain-dead as far as European consultation or independence goes. Europe habitually serves as a zombie pandering to Washington’s imperialist demands.
Witness how the European powers have slavishly deferred to the “Washington consensus” on socially disastrous neoliberal economic policy; or Washington’s catastrophic wars in the Middle East and Central Asia which have generated a migration crisis for European societies.
Witness too how European states have meekly, even keenly, gone along with Washington’s policy of hostility towards Russia and the self-harming economic sanctions imposed on Moscow.
Admittedly, Macron, in his interview this week, said that a more independent Europe should seek dialogue and partnership with Russia. That is to be welcomed. But Macron’s chances of achieving that are remote when the fact is Europe is so dominated by Washington.
Macron’s attempt at stirring controversy over NATO and Washington’s relations with Europe is a jejune self-serving bid by the French president to assert himself and France as the pivotal European power.
That’s no doubt why Germany’s Merkel reacted quickly with reproach. After all, Berlin has shown a newfound desire to increase its national military power. This week defense minister Annegret Kamp-Karrenbauer called for more “proactive deployment” internationally of the Bundeswehr in order to secure Germany’s “strategic interests”.
Merkel has previously joined Macron in endorsing a European Army. She too has complained about the US no longer being reliable as a protector. Such comments by Merkel, Macron and other European politicians betray their misplaced understanding about the nature of American power and its core relation to Europe. Calls for a European Army are not about rejecting the militarism of NATO in principle, but rather about France and Germany reviving their own national militaristic power.
This week, however, the Neo-Napoleonic Macron went too far in his quest for renaissance of French global power. Exaggeration, pseudo criticism of America and NATO, were really all about aggrandizing French power by way of creating a new role of military supervisor of Europe. And Auntie Angela was compelled to slap down the naughty little French boy. Because Berlin has designs of its own.
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