Macron-NATO spat explained: French president unapologetic about 'brain death' comment, calls it 'useful wake-up call'

  • French President Emmanuel Macron remained unapologetic on his remarks on NATO, in which he had said that the alliance was experiencing "brain death" because of a lack of co-ordination

  • He said that the remarks had been a useful wake-up call to alliance members, and he would not apologise

  • The French leader, speaking alongside NATO's secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg, said that allies became too focused on budget issues instead of evolving geopolitics.

French president Emmanuel Macron remained unapologetic on his remarks on NATO, in which he had said that the alliance was experiencing "brain death" because of a lack of coordination. He said that the remarks had been a useful wake-up call to alliance members, and would not apologise. The French leader, speaking alongside NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg, said that allies became too focused on budget issues instead of evolving geopolitics.

“The questions I have asked are open questions, that we haven’t solved yet,” Macron said at a joint news conference with NATO’s secretary-general.

"I fully stand by what I did in lifting the ambiguities," he said, adding, "We had the responsibility of not simply continuing to talk about financial issues given what the genuine challenges are today."

 Macron-NATO spat explained: French president unapologetic about brain death comment, calls it useful wake-up call

File image of France's president Emmanuel Macron. AP

Macron's sharp criticism ahead of the 4 December summit in Britain drew strong reactions from European peers who believe that Europe still needs to rely heavily on the transatlantic military alliance for its defence, reports Reuters.  The European countries are looking for ways to present a united front to the US after Donald Trump announced that he would reduce America’s contribution to the NATO budget.

Trump reduces funds

Macron’s call for intensive talks on how to shore up security in Europe, cope with volatile member Turkey and restore US leadership came as Stoltenberg said Washington will pay less into the alliance’s budget from next year, with Germany filling the spending gap.

The New York Times reported that in a goodwill gesture to Trump, NATO announced on Thursday that it had agreed to reduce the United States’ contribution to the alliance’s relatively small central budget, a move aimed at ensuring a calm leaders’ meeting next week in London. The military budget of NATO is about $2.5 billion a year, compared with $700 billion for the Pentagon.

Macron complained that NATO's two previous summits have focused almost exclusively on defence spending and “how to alleviate the financial cost for the United States.”

In this month’s the Economist, the French president had warned that a lack of American willingness to defend its members had placed Europe "on the edge of the precipice”.

In an announcement Thursday, Stoltenberg said the allies have agreed to reformulate NATO’s relatively small in-house budget and that Washington would now pay less.

NATO allies agreed last year to a 2019 civil budget for running things like the organization’s headquarters of $250.5 million. A further $1.4 billion was earmarked for spending on military missions around the world. But Stoltenberg said Thursday that a new cost-sharing formula has been agreed and that “the US will pay less, Germany will pay more.”

Washington was previously the biggest contributor, paying about 22 percent. Stoltenberg said the US and Germany will now both pay “roughly 16 percent.”

The move does not concern the national defence budgets that Trump routinely complains about but could help to mollify him. It came a day after NATO announced a $1 billion contract to refurbish its ageing fleet of surveillance planes made by US aircraft manufacturer Boeing, reports The Associated Press.

Macron said France won’t increase its contributions for NATO’s in-house budget and referred to the 13 French soldiers killed in a helicopter collision as they were fighting Islamic State group-linked extremists in Mali.

“If anyone wants to see what they call cost-sharing, they can come to the ceremony that France is organising on Monday,” he said. “They will see the price.”

'Focus on real issues'

Macron stated that NATO really needs to focus on what it’s about, to resolve a series of questions, such as how to maintain peace in Europe, relations with Russia, the role of Turkey in NATO and who the alliance’s enemies might be. He called for a return to dialogue with Russia that is “lucid, robust and demanding” in order to enhance confidence and security on the continent. NATO’s relations with Russia have arguably been at their frostiest since the end of the Cold War, as a result, Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

Macron added that the alliance needs to focus on the common enemy, which he said is neither Russia nor China, but extremist groups. Both Macron and Stoltenberg said the alliance should look toward redefining its purpose and its ultimate goals, including looking toward tackling a common enemy — terrorism.

Macron also lamented the collapse of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which the US abandoned after insisting that Russia was violating the pact. The INF was a Cold War-era bilateral agreement between Washington and Moscow. “To say that a treaty is over without having anything else in place,” he said. “Let’s be serious. We’re talking about Europe’s security.”

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Nov 29, 2019 13:23:44 IST