BRUSSELS — French President Emmanuel Macron shocked allies in an interview published on Thursday, saying that he did not know whether NATO’s commitment to collective defense is still valid and that the alliance is experiencing “brain death” because of a lack of strategic coordination and leadership from the United States.
“What we are currently experiencing is the brain death of NATO,” Macron told The Economist magazine. He said the United States under President Trump appears to be “turning its back on us,” notably by pulling troops out of northeast Syria without notice, and he called on Europeans, as he has often done, to do more in their own defense with the aim of “strategic autonomy.’’
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany responded unusually sharply to what she called Mr. Macron’s “drastic words,’’ which she does not share. “That is not my point of view,” Ms. Merkel said in Berlin, when asked about Mr. Macron’s remarks.
“I don’t think that such sweeping judgments are necessary, even if we have problems and need to pull together,” Ms. Merkel said. “NATO remains vital to our security.”
Asked for his own response, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo praised NATO in the eastern German city of Leipzig, after spending the morning touring the former border that divided East Germany from the West, where he was an officer in the United States Army.
“I think NATO remains an important, critical, perhaps historically one of the most critical strategic partnerships in all of recorded history,” he said.
NATO was crucial to the collapse of the Iron Curtain that divided Europe for decades, he said. It was the cooperation and “remarkable work” of NATO’s democratic partners “that created freedom and brought millions of people out of very, very difficult situations.’’
Mr. Pompeo then went on to defend Mr. Trump’s persistent demands that Germany and other allies increase military spending to the NATO goal of 2 percent of gross domestic product.
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas of Germany, with Mr. Pompeo, also rejected Mr. Macron’s characterization. “I do not believe NATO is brain dead,” he said. “I firmly believe in international cooperation.”
NATO leaders will gather in London for an abbreviated summit meeting on Dec. 3 and 4 to mark the alliance’s 70th anniversary. Mr. Macron’s dark views about its future are bound to overshadow the meeting, which was already designed to be brief given Mr. Trump’s own harsh criticism of NATO allies for not spending enough in their own defense.
Mr. Macron also wants Europeans to spend more on defense, but in pursuit of their own strategic goals, in collaboration with NATO but not beholden to it.
His remarks were clearly in response to some of Mr. Trump’s unilateral actions. “You have no coordination whatsoever of strategic decision-making between the United States and its NATO allies. None,” Mr. Macron said.
‘‘You have an uncoordinated aggressive action by another NATO ally, Turkey, in an area where our interests are at stake,” he added. “There has been no NATO planning, nor any coordination.’’
Turkey’s military operation against Kurdish forces in northern Syria was opposed by fellow NATO members like France, but made possible by Mr. Trump’s sudden withdrawal of United States forces, against the advice of American officials, after a telephone conversation with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.
NATO functions well in the military sphere, coordinating armies and commands, Mr. Macron said. But “strategically and politically, we need to recognize that we have a problem,” he said. “We should reassess the reality of what NATO is in light of the commitment of the United States.’’
In fact, despite Mr. Trump’s often truculent criticism and his own early reluctance to support collective defense, he has authorized a sizable increase in the American commitment of money and troops to NATO and European defense, including putting American troops in Poland and rotating through the Baltic nations.
Even France, a nuclear power and a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, is not reaching the NATO goal, projected by NATO to spend 1.84 percent of GDP on defense this year.
Mr. Macron’s real worry seemed to be the sleepwalking drift of Europe, caught between Russia, China and the United States. “All this has led to the exceptional fragility of Europe, which if it can’t think of itself as a global power, will disappear,’’ he said.
Mr. Macron has pushed for closer European integration, a rapprochement with Russia, a tougher line on Brexit and an end to the enlargement of the European Union until the process can be rethought.
The remarks reflected both his striving for a leadership role in a Europe, where Ms. Merkel is perceived to be weakened and Britain is leaving, and also his move to the right for his own domestic political purposes.
But his comments brought some sharp criticism from analysts.
François Heisbourg, a French defense expert, said that Mr. Macron, who loves to talk, “is speaking like a policy-detached think-tanker” and not the leader of a key NATO ally. Mr. Heisbourg called Mr. Macron’s comments “bizarre” and “dangerous” for a head of state.
Mr. Macron’s comments “will really damage NATO and could be seized upon by its opponents, including Trump,’’ Thomas Wright, a senior fellow at Washington’s Brookings Institution, wrote on Twitter.
He called the interview “deliberate, provocative and catastrophic,’’ and added that Mr. Macron “increasingly acts unilaterally without coordinating with the rest of the E.U. or even without informing his own officials and government colleagues.”
Ulrich Speck, a German analyst, said in a Twitter response: “With Macron saying that NATO is ‘brain-dead,’ it becomes clearer what ‘strategic autonomy’ means for him: A Europe without NATO.” His words seemed a direct challenge to Berlin, too, Mr. Speck said.
Shashank Joshi, the Economist’s defense editor, said: “I cannot imagine how Macron could possibly have thrown a bigger stink-bomb toward NATO ahead of the London summit of leaders in December. Extraordinary words, and extraordinary timing.’’
Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary-general, was also in Berlin for celebrations of the 30th anniversary on Saturday of the fall of the Berlin Wall. He praised NATO and the American role in Europe.
“The reunification of Germany and Europe would have been impossible without the United States’ security guarantee,” he said. “Any attempt to distance Europe from North America will not only weaken the trans-Atlantic alliance, it also risks dividing Europe itself.”
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