Politics, Analysis

Does NATO die when France's Macron wants it dead?

London summit will either redefine alliance or give birth to new crises due to behavior from leaders like French president

Mehmet A. Kanci   | 04.12.2019
Does NATO die when France's Macron wants it dead?

The writer is a Turkish foreign policy analyst from Ankara

ISTANBUL

NATO which continued its operations in the post-Cold War era is going through critical times. NATO member states representatives are meeting in London on Dec. 4 to discuss events never heard of in the history of the alliance, incidentally right after the London Bridge attack carried out by the terrorist organization Daesh/ISIS.

Founded on May 14, 1955, the Warsaw Pact dissolved slowly but quietly. The accession of the German Democratic Republic to the Federal Republic in October 1990 following the fall of the Berlin Wall sounded the death knell for the pact.

Military structures of the pact were terminated by the remaining members on March 31, 1990. Three months later, the pact was officially dissolved on July 1, 1990.

During that period, the architect of the perestroika and glasnost movements and the last leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, was criticized by the established order in the Soviet Union because of the compromises he made with the North Atlantic Alliance.

Following that, he was also targeted by a coup attempt. It was not long before Western countries’ verbal promises claiming that NATO would not march East were realized to be nothing more than “rubber checks''. Former Warsaw Pact members Poland, Hungary and Czechia in 1999, and Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Slovenia and the three Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) in 2004 became NATO members in a chain reaction.

NATO continued advancing East via political consultations (despite Russia’s objections) and inhibited the Russian presence in the Balkans with the Bosnian and the Kosovo Wars. The alliance also took steps toward expanding its military forces’ reach to the Mediterranean Sea and North Africa, including the 2011 military intervention in Libya, but was faced with resistance in three major points. The South Ossetia focused Russo-Georgian War in 2008 stopped NATO from advancing further East. Crimea’s annexation by the Russian Federation in 2014 and the Russian-backed separatist groups’ armed conflict with the Ukrainian government in 2015 followed that. Using Crimea as a “foothold”, the Russian Federation sent military aid to Syria to help keep the Assad regime in power and balance NATO in the Mediterranean Sea.

Donald Trump being elected U.S. president triggered the start of many debates regarding the internal structure of the organization and the alliance’s purpose as well. Looking to decrease the expenses of the U.S. troops serving abroad, Trump started questioning the contribution of other NATO member states to the alliance. Trump pressured European countries to up their contributions to the alliance and looked for ways of increasing U.S.-made weapons’ exports. The F-35 Aircraft Project is a prime example of that.

Why did NATO Summit turn into a clash of its members?

We can list the main reasons as follows:

1. The obstacles that got in the way of NATO when it was advancing toward Russia.

2. The responses given to NATO by the Russian Federation in Ukraine, the Black Sea (Crimea) and the Mediterranean (Syria) regions.

3. The U.S. weapon industry’s hopes of making more money in the European market.

4. Germany and France not allocating enough financial resources to NATO; Germany spending money on energy projects carried out in collaboration with Russia when it could spend that money on the NATO army and/or U.S.-made weapons.

5. The U.S. and France’s conflicts with Russia within Syria which started risking the national security of Turkey.

6. The U.S. and France collaborating with and weaponizing terrorist organization PKK/YPG while preventing Turkey from gathering the air defense systems it needs; excluding Turkey from the F-35 Project due to Turkey purchasing the S-400 missile systems from Russia and even threatening to pull the Patriot defense systems and the arms embargo threat that’s coming to the picture.

7. French President Emmanuel Macron’s attempts to announce the “brain death” of the organization in order to protect the Greece-Cyprus-Egypt-Israel alliance backed by France, gain access to the military bases in Cyprus and shares from the energy resources, developing private relationships with Russia and China independent of the U.S.

There seems to be a series of multi-dimensional equations waiting to be solved by the leaders at the summit.


Macron’s dream of USA-Free Europe

For many years, Turkey’s needs for weapons and technology were not met in the Middle East. Turkey’s call for collective defense based on the 5th article of the North Atlantic Treaty was also ignored and Turkey was threatened by NATO members who are actively collaborating with terrorist organizations within the East Mediterranean and Syria or with countries which violate international law. According to emerging news in international media, Turkey “blocked” a critical plan of the Alliance.

The approval of the response that would be given by NATO in case of a Russian invasion of the three Balkan states or Poland would not be granted until PKK/YPG was recognized as a terrorist organization, (primarily) by NATO and its members. On one hand there is the very current and tangible terrorism threat that Turkey is facing and on the other hand the Russian Federation’s dreams of invading Europe -- which have not actually realized, in the past 75 years. One does not need to be a diplomat or a military specialist to see which one of these two issues at hand is the more urgent. Turkey is unfairly being targeted, especially by the French president, after giving a natural response to the terrorism threat it has been facing for years, just as it happened with the purchasing of the S-400s.

Macron started targeting NATO and Turkey in the first week of November 2019 in an interview with the Economist. This is where he first talked about the alliance experiencing “brain death”, which turned out to lead the agenda at the 2019 London NATO summit carried out on the 70th year of the organization. Though Florence Parly, the minister of the armies of the French Republic, tried to soften the expression by saying: “... time to move from the brain-dead to the brainstorm”, Macron said he was insisting on the phrase “brain death” at the press conference organized with Secretary General Stoltenberg on Nov. 28.

In his interview with the Economist, Macron said that he was not sure if he still believes in the 5th article, on the topic of collective defense, which could be summarized as: "An attack against an ally is considered an attack against all allies". The French president criticized the Turkey-U.S. cooperation in Syria as well.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan responded the French president, who considers the U.S. leader cutting the support to the terrorist organization PKK/YPG the “brain death” of the organization, the very next day from Istanbul, reminding the politician of the responsibilities of France to NATO yet unfulfilled: “‘NATO is brain dead’, he says. First of all, have your own brain death checked. These statements are suitable only to people like you who are in a state of brain death. You aren’t fulfilling your responsibilities to NATO [in the first place].”

One should look at the French president’s White House visit in April 2018 to better understand Macron’s “USA-Free Europe” ideals. Macron gifted an oak sapling to the White House as a symbol of their 250 years of friendship and remembrance of the 2,000 U.S. soldiers who lost their lives fighting for France against Germany during World War I. However, the tree was put to mandatory quarantine shortly after, amid fears that parasites on the tree could spread across the White House. The tree could not make it through the quarantine and became a more suitable symbol for the recent France-U.S. relations, according to many.

The French president also argued that NATO’s “enemy” is not Russia or China in today’s world, but it is international terrorism instead, in the press conference. However, we must note that what Macron means with ‘international terrorism’ is not the PKK/YPG terror, but the Daesh/ISIS terror, whose source is still yet to be clarified.

Terror attacks in London and The Hague

With four days left to the summit, simultaneous knife attacks were carried out by Daesh/ISIS members in London and The Hague. Two people were murdered on the London Bridge, one of the most symbolic spots in the U.K., while three teenagers were wounded on a shopping street in Den Haag, the Netherlands. A bag full of explosives were found in the Gare du Nord, Paris, during the same hours as the two knife attacks.

Macron’s claim that Russia and China are not a threat to NATO is also worth examining. It turns out that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is claiming that Europe cannot defend itself 80 years after World War II, and that French President Macron is going after a new military structure that will support the financial interests of his country. It is not too hard to see that Greece and Cyprus are seen as a part of that structure. It seems that Macron prefers to announce dead the alliances, that also include his own country, in order to fulfil the new and reorganized interests of his country around NATO and the European Union.

However, is it possible for NATO to die just because Macron wants it dead? To answer that question, all we need to do is to take a quick look at the foundation of the alliance and remember what “North Atlantic Alliance” means again. Right after World War II, when the Soviet Union leader Stalin was trying to take over all of Europe, the first response by the U.S. was initiating the Marshall Plan to prevent economic collapse in the region. However, the military threat needed to be dealt with as well. While the Treaty of Brussels signed by the U.K., France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg in 1948 was a positive development, it was not strong enough to face the Soviet Union’s military power.

Because the UN would not be able to either due to the rapidly advancing Cold War, the U.K., Canada and the U.S. decided to create a security alliance. After the communist coup in February 1948 in Czechoslovakia signalled that the threat is getting closer, following negotiations between France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Norway starting in March, the NATO was founded within a year.

Due to its geopolitical orientation, France was never a priority country for the alliance. If General de Gaulle was the president in 1949, France may have never been a part of the alliance in the first place.

Potential outcomes of London summit

The situation that arose before the NATO London summit was hinted at in the 55th Munich Security Conference on February 15-17, 2019. It was noted in an earlier analysis: “Following the conference where Europe and the U.S. could not find common ground on any of the issues, the world seems to have entered a new three-way power game between the U.S., China and the Russian Federation and that the Western liberal democracies are caught off-guard. In this year’s conference, the conflicts within the Transatlantic family stood out rather than the U.S.-Russia conflict.”

The London summit will either redefine the alliance or give birth to new crises due to such behaviour from leaders like Macron. If the member states are sincere about the Russia threat, they will have to reconsider the national security of Turkey. Otherwise, the double standard regarding Turkey will confirm that no NATO state is truly secure.

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