French President Emmanuel Macron has warned that Nato is undergoing “brain death” and called for a rethink of its purpose in a sign of the deep splits between Europe and the US over the transatlantic military alliance.
Mr Macron strongly criticised the lack of strategic co-ordination within Nato over the Turkish invasion of northern Syria and said Europe had to regain “military sovereignty”.
“You have partners together in the same part of the world, and you have no co-ordination whatsoever of strategic decision-making between the United States and its Nato allies — none,” he told The Economist in an interview.
“You have . . . aggressive action by another Nato ally, Turkey, in an area where our interests are at stake,” said Mr Macron, who has sought to strengthen and accelerate defence ties within Europe since he was elected in 2017.
His comments were published less than a month before a Nato summit in London, which will mark the climax of the alliance’s 70th anniversary this year but which is also set to be marked by tension between its partners.
European Nato countries and Germany in particular have previously come under fire from Donald Trump, who has amplified longstanding US criticisms of the failure of allies to spend more on their militaries.
The French president said the situation in Syria had not called into question the military interoperability of Nato armies. “But strategically and politically, we need to recognise that we have a problem.”
Mr Macron said: “The instability of our American partner and rising tensions have meant that the idea of European defence is gradually taking hold . . . we will at some stage have to take stock of Nato.
“To my mind, what we are currently experiencing is the brain death of Nato. We have to be lucid.”
Mr Macron’s remarks triggered angry private reactions from some European diplomats who saw them as damaging to Nato — if not necessarily untrue.
One European diplomat said the French president’s broadside raised “big concerns” while another called Mr Macron’s remarks “unhelpful”.
Nato did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
Mr Macron — the most active west European leader on the international stage since the UK was distracted by Brexit and German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s influence in Germany has begun to fade — has repeatedly expressed frustration at what he sees as the slow and unambitious nature of EU policymaking on strategic and economic issues.
“Europe must become autonomous in terms of military strategy and capability,” he said, complaining that Europe was suffering “exceptional fragility” as a result of US unilateralism under Donald Trump, the rise of China, Turkey and Russia and the turmoil in the Middle East.
His scathing criticism of Nato emerged on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, an event which forced Nato to forge a new role itself after being a Cold War bulwark against the Soviet Union.
The recent withdrawal of US troops from Syria and the subsequent incursion into the warn torn country by Nato-ally Turkey has highlighted and deepened rifts within the 29-member Brussels-based organisation.
Mr Trump himself has in the past expressed scepticism about Nato, which he branded “obsolete” when he was campaigning to be president.
In office, Mr Trump has at times cast doubt on the US commitment to the alliance’s foundational Article 5 collective defence provision — although administration officials have also repeatedly underscored the US commitment to Nato.
France itself has long had a complex relationship with Nato, with Paris historically cool about initiatives that constrain its strategic autonomy.
Paris withdrew from the alliance’s integrated military command in 1966 under President Charles de Gaulle and did not return until 2009.
“Macron is clearly escalating the rhetoric,” Bruno Tertrais, deputy director of the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research think-tank, wrote in a tweet. “Does he really believe it or is he convincing himself that the traditional Gaullist narrative on intrinsic unreliability of US is coming true?”
In the interview, Mr Macron also warned that by moving too slowly to assert its sovereignty on the economic and commercial front, the EU risked leaving its 5G telecoms infrastructure in the hands of Chinese business and its data in the hands of US tech companies.
“The result is that if we just allow this to continue, in 10 years’ time no one will be able to guarantee the technological soundness of your cyber-systems, no one will be able to guarantee who processes the data, and how, of citizens or companies.”