The 29 members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) will celebrate its 70th anniversary in London on Tuesday and Wednesday, as the alliance confronts one of the deepest crises of its history.
French president Emmanuel Macron laid the crisis bare in a November 7th interview with The Economist. Macron said the US was disengaging from Europe, and accused the US and Turkey of acting against the interest of their allies. "What we are currently experiencing is the brain death of Nato, " he said.
Macron and Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan subsequently exchanged insults. At a press conference with Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg on November 28th, Macron accused Erdogan of "presenting his allies with a fait accompli" when he invaded northern Syria and attacked Kurdish allies of the coalition that is fighting Islamic State. Nato is part of that coalition.
Erdogan lashed out at Macron the following day, paraphrasing Macron’s controversial statement about the brain death of Nato.
“I address myself to the French president, Emmanuel Macron, and I will say it again at Nato,” Erdogan said. “Have a look at your own brain death first.” The French foreign ministry protested by summoning the Turkish ambassador.
The most important meetings will take place outside the Nato summit, starting with a meeting of the two main protagonists, presidents Donald Trump and Macron, on Tuesday afternoon.
France has a decades-long history of challenging US domination of Nato while other members sat passively by, terrified of any moves that might precipitate US disengagement. There's no telling how the mercurial Trump will react to Macron's latest affronts.
Macron was determined that this summit would not provide yet another platform for Trump to hector Nato allies to spend more on defence. There was, Macron said on November 28th, “a blatant, unacceptable disconnect” at recent summits “which were dedicated solely to how one could lighten the financial burden for the US”.
Macron will go from his bilateral meeting with Trump to Downing Street, where Erdogan is slated for a dressing down by the "E3" – Macron, prime minister Boris Johnson and chancellor Angela Merkel. Erdogan was summoned at Macron's request, the Élysée said. He demands a "clarification" of Turkey's position in the alliance.
Turkey has also angered France and others by purchasing Russian S-400 surface-to-air missiles this year.
Queen Elizabeth will hold a reception for Nato leaders at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday evening, followed by a second reception hosted by Johnson.
The strongest defence co-operation within Europe is between France and Britain. In 1998 France agreed that its cherished concept of a “Europe of Defence” could be developed within Nato, in exchange for which the UK agreed that the EU could develop competency in security and defence. Franco-British defence co-operation “must remain entirely operational when the British will have left the EU”, an adviser to Macron said.
On the sidelines of the Nato summit, Macron and Merkel will discuss the December 9th summit in Paris, which will bring together the leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine in the hope of a breakthrough in resolving the frozen conflict in Ukraine.
Nato heads of state and government will each make a three-minute speech at the council meeting on Wednesday. Macron then has an appointment with the incoming president of the European Council, former Belgian prime minister Charles Michel, who aides say has "a similar outlook on European sovereignty" to Macron's. The new president of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the new head of EU diplomacy, Josep Borrell, also share many of Macron's aspirations.
Macron's warm relations with Vladimir Putin have made many of his European and Nato allies uncomfortable. "Russia is also our neighbour," says a high-ranking French military source. "In a simplistic comparison, if you own a bungalow and your neighbour is mean to you, do you punch him in the face right away or do you try dialogue first?"
Nato leaders will discuss the consequences of the US renunciation in August of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty. Nato allies agreed with Washington that Russia’s SSC-8 missiles were violating the bilateral treaty. But Europeans, particularly those farthest east, feel more exposed to Russian military threats now.
Macron and Stoltenberg clashed over Russia’s vague offer of a “moratorium” to replace the INF treaty. Macron says the offer “should not be dismissed out of hand”.
“Russian missiles are there, in violation of the INF, and they can reach Paris. There can be no moratorium,” Stoltenberg told Le Monde.
The Nato-Russia council is the appropriate forum for dialogue, Stoltenberg said. “It is only by speaking with a single voice that we can convince Russia to undertake credible, serious arms control.”
“It is our security that is at stake,” Macron insisted. “That of the European allies...We cannot delegate our security to bilateral agreement [between the US and Russia], where no European is present.”
Macron has appointed senior French diplomat Pierre Vimont to pursue European dialogue with Russia.
Macron on Monday spoke at a memorial service at Les Invalides for 13 French soldiers who were killed fighting jihadists in Mali last week. He will ask Nato allies to do more to help France in fighting Islamist groups in the Sahel region of Africa. "If some want to see burden-sharing, they can attend the ceremony" for the dead French soldiers, he said earlier. "They will see the price."
Macron insists that his “wake-up call was necessary” and that it will lead to more productive talks in London. On November 21st, Germany and France proposed different formats for a group of experts to draw up a report later regarding the profound issues confronting the alliance.
The perception is that “Macron wants to replace Nato”, as German defence minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer told Die Welt.
Nonsense, says the Élysée. “The security of Europe is not fromage ou dessert, it’s cheese AND dessert,” says an adviser to Macron. “We can have European defence and Nato, and European defence can contribute to the security of the alliance, to the European effort within Nato. We’ve repeated this endlessly.”