France's Macron defends 'brain death' criticism after talks with NATO chief

French President Emmanuel Macron greets NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg as he arrives for a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, November 28, 2019.
French President Emmanuel Macron greets NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg as he arrives for a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, November 28, 2019. Charles Platiau, REUTERS

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg on Thursday confronted Emmanuel Macron in Paris over the French president’s claim the alliance is suffering “brain death”, a charge that has set the stage for a testy NATO summit in London next week.


Addressing reporters after the talks, Macron said his damning assessment of NATO's crisis had been a "useful wake-up call" for the alliance.

Macron referred to NATO as being "brain-dead" in an interview earlier this month with The Economist magazine, in which he lamented the lack of strategic coordination between Europe and the United States.

As further evidence that NATO is in crisis, Macron cited NATO member Turkey’s recent intervention against a Western-backed Kurdish militia that had been leading the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria.

The French president's comments drew sharp criticism from allies, not least Stoltenberg, who warned against undermining the transatlantic alliance.

Stoltenberg said Thursday that "in uncertain times, we need strong multilateral institutions like NATO," and that he had "good and open discussions" with Macron.

He praised in particular France's role in fighting the spread of Islamic terrorism in the Sahel region of Western Africa, which saw the death of 13 French soldiers in Mali this week when two of their helicopters collided while engaging with insurgents.

Macron said that at next week's NATO meeting in London he would urge allies to get more involved in the Sahel fight.

While Britain has provided helicopters and security personnel to help France's 4,500-member Barkhane force in West Africa, and the US provides intelligence support, Paris has so far failed to persuade other allies to make a significant contribution.

Macron also said he would begin an in-depth review of Barkhane with "all options on the table", underscoring that France is acting "on behalf of everyone".

"In this context, and in light of the decisions that France will take, a bigger engagement by its allies is obviously something that would be quite positive," he said.

EU and US-Russia nuclear treaty

Macron also said that European nations should be involved in any talks to forge a new pact limiting mid-range nuclear missiles held by the US and Russia, after a landmark Cold War-era accord fell apart this year.

“We cannot just content ourselves with bilateral treaties,” Macron said.

Washington and Moscow walked away from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty in August after each accused the other of violating the terms of the deal.

Russia has called on the US and other NATO member to implement a moratorium on deploying medium-range missiles, something Stoltenberg has so far ruled out.

But Macron has made no secret of his wish to engage with Russian President Vladimir Putin on a range of disputes, saying he would raise the issue at a NATO meeting in London next week.

“We want a lucid, robust and demanding dialogue with Russia, with neither naivety nor complacency,” Macron said at a press conference alongside Stoltenberg at the Elysee Palace.

“An accord that would replace the INF... requires the involvement of Europeans,” he said. “It’s a question of the security of Europe.”

"We cannot just content ourselves with bilateral treaties," he added.

The comments set the stage for another possibly fractious NATO summit in London on December 3-4, which will be attended by the US and Turkish presidents.

US President Donald Trump has repeatedly criticised alliance members for not spending enough on defence.

Referring to those criticisms, Macron told reporters on Thursday: "If some people want to see an example of what they term 'cost-sharing', they can come Monday to the ceremony France is organising" for the 13 soldiers killed in Mali.

"There they will see the cost."

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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