World

Alliance leaders disagree with Macron's 'brain death of NATO' comments

French President Emmanuel Macron claimed that a lack of U.S. leadership is causing the "brain death" of the NATO military alliance, insisting in an interview published Thursday that the European Union must step up and start acting as a strategic world power.

Angela Merkel rebukes French leader for 'drastic words'; next NATO summit is Dec. 3 in London

'What we are currently experiencing is the brain death of NATO,' French President Emmanuel Macron told The Economist magazine. He said the United States under President Donald Trump appears to be 'turning its back on us,' notably by pulling troops out of northeast Syria without notice. (Francois Mori/The Associated Press)

French President Emmanuel Macron claimed that a lack of U.S. leadership is causing the "brain death" of the NATO military alliance, insisting in an interview published Thursday that the European Union must step up and start acting as a strategic world power.

Macron's public criticism of the state of the world's biggest military alliance was rejected by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, setting the scene for a possible showdown in London next month when U.S. President Donald Trump joins his counterparts.

"What we are currently experiencing is the brain death of NATO," Macron told The Economist magazine. He said Trump appears to be "turning its back on us," notably by pulling troops out of northeast Syria without notice.

Trump surprised his NATO partners with last month's troop withdrawal. NATO plays no role in Syria, apart from helping the coalition fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) extremist group. But the move was seen by Turkey, another NATO ally, as a green light to invade the region.

Macron said, "So as soon as you have a member who feels they have a right to head off on their own, granted by the United States of America, they do it. And that's what happened."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended the 70-year-old military alliance as he met with Liberal MPs in Ottawa on Thursday, saying NATO continues to play an important role in bringing Canada and its allies together in the name of collective security and shared values.

"NATO continues to hold an extremely important role not just in the North Atlantic but in the world as a group of countries who come together to share values, that share a commitment to shared security," he said.

Trump also wrong-footed the allies by announcing a troop draw-down in Afghanistan and then declaring that peace talks with the Taliban were cancelled after a bomb attack killed a U.S. soldier. NATO has played a major security role in the country since 2003, but its future there is now unclear.

Beyond that, the U.S. leader publicly berated other leaders at a May 2017 summit for failing to boost their military budgets. Trump's preoccupation with defence spending has been a constant theme since he came to office in 2016 and is expected to feature at the next NATO summit, in London on Dec. 3-4.

Macron said that the European members of the 29-nation alliance "should reassess the reality of what NATO is in the light of the commitment of the United States."

But after talks with Stoltenberg in Berlin, Merkel said, "The French president chose drastic words. That is not my view of co-operation in NATO, and I think that such a sweeping blow is not necessary, even if we do have problems, even if we must pull together."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, met Thursday in Berlin and were asked about Macron's comments to The Economist. (Michael Sohn/The Associated Press)

More broadly, Trump's trade tariffs against the EU also have rankled European members of NATO. And his decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement particularly annoyed Macron.

In the interview, Macron said that Trump "doesn't share our idea of the European project." He added that Europe stands on "the edge of a precipice" and must start thinking like a geopolitical power; otherwise, it will "no longer be in control of our destiny."

Merkel, however, said that "we in Europe certainly must take our fate in our hands a bit more, but the transatlantic alliance is indispensable for us, and I think there are many areas in which NATO works well."

Turkey is still a NATO partner, but it has invaded Syria and fired in the direction of U.S. forces stationed there. Non-proliferation expert Jeffrey Lewis says now would be a good time to get U.S. nuclear weapons out of Turkey. 8:58

Agreeing with Merkel, Stoltenberg said, "We have to remember that any attempt to distance Europe from North America risks not only weaken the alliance, the transatlantic bond, but also to divide Europe, so therefore we have to stand together."

"I welcome European unity. I welcome efforts to strengthen European defence, but European unity cannot replace transatlantic unity," he added.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his German counterpart also stressed the importance of the NATO alliance,  saying that transatlantic co-operation was critical in bringing about the fall of the Berlin Wall 30 years ago and is still relevant today.

Speaking after visiting the German village of Moedlareuth with Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, which was divided into two during the Cold War, Pompeo told reporters it was the "remarkable work" of democratic nations that "created freedom and brought millions of people out of very, very difficult situations."

"I think NATO remains an important, critical, perhaps historically one of the most critical, strategic partnerships in all of recorded history," Pompeo told reporters in Leipzig, Germany.

Maas also weighed in, saying he did "not believe NATO is brain dead," adding "I firmly believe in international co-operation."

Canada currently has about 250 military trainers involved in a NATO mission to train local forces in Iraq and another 600 troops participating in a NATO mission in Latvia that is serving as a check against Russian aggression in the Baltics.

With files from The Canadian Press

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