The Irish Times view on European security: Macron’s grenade

The French president has a tin ear for the position of central and eastern European states for whom concerns about the Russian threat are very real

French president Emmanuel Macron has called for sweeping changes to Europe’s security arrangements and put the future of Nato in question. Photograph: Hector Retamal/Pool via Reuters

French president Emmanuel Macron has called for sweeping changes to Europe’s security arrangements and put the future of Nato in question. Photograph: Hector Retamal/Pool via Reuters

 

Emmanuel Macron has frequently called for Europe to build up its defence capacity and forge an independent course in foreign policy, but in a provocative interview with The Economist in recent days the French president went further by calling for sweeping changes to Europe’s security arrangements. “What we are currently experiencing is the brain death of Nato, ” he said.

Macron’s diagnosis of the problem itself is undoubtedly correct, even uncontroversial. The continent is confronted with a US president who openly repudiates the European project and holds deep suspicions towards the Atlantic alliance. Meanwhile, it must contend with the rise of China, entrenched authoritarian regimes in Russia and Turkey and the internal distraction of Brexit. What does Nato’s article five – the mutual defence clause – mean, Macron wonders, in a world in which the US and Turkey can take far-reaching unilateral military decisions, as they did recently in Syria, without even consulting their partners in the alliance?

But for all the merits of Macron’s analysis, his account is only a partial one. Trump’s hostile rhetoric does not reflect US policy; in recent years, US commitments of troops and money to Europe’s defence have been increasing, and Nato has been more active in deploying forces for collective defence than it has in decades. Defence spending by Nato states has also been increasing.

Macron’s thesis rests on two big assumptions: that Trumpism represents a long-term shift in Washington’s international posture, and that Russia envisages a future in partnership with Europe. Unless he is right on counts, his argument is no more than a distraction.

Moreover, the French president’s comments betray a tin ear for the concerns of central and eastern European states for whom concerns about the Russian threat – and, as a result, attachment to the Nato security umbrella – are very real. As they are acutely aware, the government that will be most pleased with Macron’s public airing of doubt about Nato’s future is Russia’s.

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