French president Emmanuel Macron has opened a rift with Germany and other Nato allies weeks ahead of a vital summit after he warned that the transatlantic security alliance was suffering "brain death".
German chancellor Angela Merkel rejected Mr Macron's "sweeping blow" against the alliance, in which he strongly criticised a lack of strategic co-ordination between the US and other Nato allies over the invasion of Syria last month by Turkey, one of its members.
“The French president has chosen drastic words. That is not my view of co-operation inside Nato ... even if we do have problems and even though we do have to get our act together,” Ms Merkel said. “From a German perspective, Nato is in our interest. It is our security alliance.”
Turkey's Syria incursion, given the green light by US president Donald Trump without consultation with other allies, underscored deep tensions among Nato leaders, set to meet in the UK next month to celebrate the alliance's 70th anniversary.
Mr Trump, who branded Nato “obsolete” during his presidential campaign, has repeatedly blasted Germany and other members for not meeting their alliance defence spending targets.
Mr Macron said Nato, forged after the second World War to meet the threat of the Soviet Union, had to acknowledge the "instability of our American partner", after Mr Trump's repeated criticisms.
In an interview with The Economist magazine, he said "Europe must become autonomous in terms of military strategy and capability", and complained that Europe was suffering "exceptional fragility" as a result of US unilateralism under Mr Trump, the rise of China, Turkey and Russia and turmoil in the Middle East.
“To my mind, what we are currently experiencing is the brain death of Nato. We have to be lucid, ” he said.
US secretary of state Mike Pompeo, on a visit to Germany, defended Nato in response, calling it "one of the most critical strategic partnerships in all of recorded history".
British foreign secretary Dominic Raab said: "Europe does need to wake up to the common security challenges we all face. But the answer is for all European countries to meet their commitments to spending two per cent of GDP on defence – the surest way to reinforce rather than weaken the transatlantic relationship."
Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg dismissed Mr Macron's criticism that Europe needed to regain military sovereignty. "Any attempt to distance Europe from North America risks not only to weaken the alliance and the transatlantic bond but also to divide Europe. Therefore we have to stand together," he said.
He added that European Nato members were stepping up investment in defence and the US was increasing its presence in Europe.
Jonathan Eyal, an expert on European security at the London-based Royal United Services Institute, said Mr Macron's claims about the alliance were "simply untrue" and damaging to his wider agenda of pursuing closer defence co-operation within Europe.
“It would do him good to come off his high horse in Paris and look at the facts,” Dr Eyal said. “Comments like this are not going to improve the chances of accelerating a cohesive, European defence structure among his allies.”
Claudia Major, a defence analyst at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, praised Mr Macron's analysis but said his tone would alienate central and eastern Europe states that saw Nato's collective defence commitment as an essential deterrent to Russia.
“If Macron would like to have those countries on board, then you have to pay a little bit of attention to their mindset,” Ms Major said. “If someone like Macron says, ‘I don’t think this works’, that’s champagne on ice in Moscow.”
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,” he said. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019