In 2016, NATO held a summit in Warsaw, the 28th, which for many was the most decisive since German reunification. In a symbolic place at a key moment, with the surprise of Brexit coming from the west, the violence of the Islamic State from the south, and the always threatening attitude of Russia from the east. Last year, in Brussels, they no longer talked about the past or the future, but only about the present. Of Donald Trump, privately and publicly abronoming his partners, claiming the promised contributions to collective defense and dancing not to promise anything as far as collective defense is concerned. The meeting that the Heads of State and Government of the Atlantic Alliance are going to star in London this week, celebrating the 70th anniversary of its founding, is going to be different.
There will be the talk of Russians and terrorists, there will be the talk of money and Trump, but above all, it will be discussed whether he is “brain dead”, as Emmanuel Macron asserts, or only in a temporary induced coma, as others hope. Macron, in his interview with ‘The Economist’, put the elephant in the room, and within the Alliance and in Brussels, they do not talk about anything else. His words caused hives and many reactions. There is a majority that shares the need for a reassessment of NATO, that advocates a committee of wise men and experts to help in deep reflection. But questioning the validity of the most powerful political-military alliance in the world, right now, raises the hair in many capitals. “It is not a secret, the words caused a commotion in the house. We are more used to Trump, not to this. He is smart, he wants to mark the development of the meeting, but he stopped short,” explained diplomatic sources from the Alliance.
From Paris, they point out that it was necessary to shake the hornet’s nest. To launch an issue that was running too late. But they also indicate from Macron’s surroundings that in this way a purely internal debate has been provoked, trying to prevent Trump from cannibalizing attention and concentrating a meeting around his figure that is not official, but important. But what could have been an interview outside turned out to be the tip of the iceberg. Behind it is an important strategic change, a bet by Macron that many allies do not fully understand or certainly endorse. In the forms and the bottom. Paris wants to get closer to Moscow and Beijing and focus efforts on terrorism, an idea it announced together with the secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, on the same day that 13 of its soldiers had died in Mali.
NATO has problems, but more political than military. The Russian question, the nuclear question, the terrorist question. The dramatic fact that one of its members, Turkey, has decided to undertake military operations on its own in Syria, generating enormous discomfort and showing too much shame. Macron, openly at odds with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, made it clear: if Ankara invoked Article 5, it is not clear that its partners should respond. And if the mutual defense is called into question, that sacred mechanism that has only been applied after 9/11, turn it off and let’s go.
President Macron’s recent remarks, though nuanced later, will undoubtedly stir up discussions in London but are likely to be more damaging within the EU than within NATO. And it is not so much about the what, as the how and when of his interview and his “initiative for Russia. The great underlying question remains the health of the transatlantic link. Even if Trump is not re-elected in 2020, it will have to be reformulated and adapt to the new strategic environment that is being formed characterized by competition and rivalry between great powers and the expansion of hybrid threats that tend to operate below NATO’s response threshold, “explains Nicolás de Pedro, from the Institute for Statecraft in London.
“Macron has said that Europe and the West have to approach Russia with an eye toward China. There has been a debate about it in the American strategic community for a few years now, let’s call it doing a ‘Kissinger in reverse’: approach Russia to counter. Chinese power. But that is something that Trump cannot say in public. Therefore, Macron has done him a favor, regardless of the many conceptual problems and risks that he poses, “says Luis Simon, director of the office of the Elcano Royal Institute in Brussels.
No formal conclusions will emerge from this meeting in London. It is not an official Summit, but a meeting of its leaders, something as informal as NATO allows. It should have been held in Washington, where it was signed in 1949, but the unpredictability of the American president made it impossible. Delegates have been working on a one- or two-page statement for weeks that will seek to highlight the achievements of the past seven decades, joint operations, unity, or what’s left of it. Something that, although true, will sound little and artificial.
“Nobody wants to leave NATO, and yet keeping it together and in good shape seems more difficult than ever. From an operational and military point of view, NATO remains in good shape, but politically its health is more delicate. NATO is fundamentally a political organization that has military capabilities. Despite the controversies, it generates, in my opinion, complementarity with defense Europe will be easier to articulate. There is simply no realistic alternative for Europe, so progress will have to be made in the path of complementarity and mutual reinforcement “, adds De Pedro.
In the background is the fat debate, the pending strategic one. What NATO is and what it should be in the 21st century and, on a smaller scale, what the EU should do. The general secretary, Jens Stoltenberg, although very concerned, has become used to dealing with surprises and always advises that perspective is necessary. The French break with De Gaulle. The situation in 1989 was much more eventful. The Iraq War created much stronger divisions. NATO knows how to deal with challenges, remember. Although these are interior, like now. “The world is changing, and this house too”, they indicate from the headquarters of Brussels. But what should be a moment of joy, celebration and a powerful message to the rest of the planet is being just the opposite. A festival of doubts, division, and confrontation. A script that the Kremlin could not have designed better.
Macron says that neither China nor Russia are rivals and that NATO’s main enemy is terrorism. This only adds to the confusion, since France’s traditional line is that terrorism is a problem that transcends the strictly military and that must be addressed by the States and at the most the EU; and that NATO must adhere to collective defense and deterrence. The term was chosen by the US for Russia and China, and officially reflected in the National Security Strategy of 2017 and The 2018 National Defense Strategy is “strategic competitors”, which is a concept that assumes that there is a relationship characterized by conflictive dynamics but also cooperatives “, recalls Luis Simon. History knocks on the doors and the Alliance, and its members, need a position of “determination and security, which allows dialogue and even cooperate with them, but from a position of strength”, Simón insists. That is clear to practically all its members. They disagree on methods, resources, and priorities. NATO is a giant, it is powerful but it is also slow, predictable, and, at times, stubborn.
It remains to be seen if Macron’s heavy-handed tactic works. Seeing what happened in the last two years and the increase in Defense after Trump’s shouts, threats, and actions, Macron believes that it is the best way. Rough, uncomfortable, but effective. Jean-Claude Juncker defined his as the “most political commission in history.” The new president, Ursula von der Leyen, wants it to be a · geopolitical commission. “And the high representative for Foreign Policy, Josep Borrell, wants the EU to learn to speak” the language of power. “Macron believes that the continent does not he is preparing, neither intellectually, nor materially, nor militarily for any of the three things, and that is why he must wake up. That is why he does not want London to be a party, but a revulsive, before it is too late.