‘Allied but Not Aligned’: Will Macron Redefine the Role of Europe in NATO?

In the context of war for supremacy between Beijing and Washington, the EU is not obliged to take sides, and should better find a way to protect its own interests, writes Valdai Club expert Pascal Boniface. Europe must avoid following blindly Washington and must be the actor of its own history and not its passive spectator.

By telling The Economist that NATO is suffering from “brain death” and that Europe must develop a military force of its own, Emmanuel Macron has rocked the boat. He has also stated that President Trump does not share the idea of “European Project”. On top of that, he added that even if Trump is not reelected, historical trends are pulling the NATO allies apart, with a widening gap between the United States and Europe.

His words have created a strong emotion and even fears in many European countries. For their leaders, NATO is still the bedrock of their security, and they perceived no need to change a situation existing since 1949, even 30 years after the fall of the Berlin wall.

Actually, European leaders make a confusion between their wishes and reality, turning a blind eye on it. Macron has just described the present situation.

Could we trust an alliance when the head of state of the main country has declared it obsolete? How strong is the US guarantee when Americans are able to pull out their troops from Syria without either consultation with or warning their European allies and abandoning the Kurds, which were decisive in the war against ISIS? When a member of the alliance, Turkey, is fighting without any consultations against these Kurdish allies?

The Golden Hammer: What’s Wrong with NATO?
Timofei Bordachev
Twenty years ago, on March 24, 1999, NATO aircraft dropped the first bombs on Yugoslavia, a sovereign and independent country. The air attacks were preceded by the absolutely symbolic negotiations at Rambouillet that resulted in the US and the UK putting forward a demand that 30,000 NATO troops be deployed in Kosovo.
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But for Macron, the problem is not entirely Trump. He reminds that Obama, having drawn red lines in case of the use of chemical weapons in Syria, finally did nothing once it had been documented. How to believe therefore that Washington will implement article 5 of NATO treaty envisaging military solidarity in case of aggression?

That’s why Macron pleads for European strategic autonomy. That’s why he wants to resume discussions with Russia, to give France and Europe more room for maneuver. During the electoral campaign in 2017, Macron referred himself to “Gaullo-mitterandism”, which means the traditional French diplomacy which aims, above all, to maintain French independence from the US. According to Hubert Vedrine, France is an ally of, but not aligned to the US.

China is more and more perceived in Washington as a strategic threat. Donald Trump regularly threatens to launch a trade war against Beijing, criticizing the huge US trade deficit toward China (400 billion dollars). But animosity toward China is not only Trump’s view. It is a matter of consensus in Washington, gathering both Republicans and Democrats.

The Thucydides Trap and the Rise of China
David Lane
The time for the USA to crush China as a rising power has gone. The USA is still a hegemonic power, though weakened by its excessive military spending and world ambitions. It took over a hundred years for the USA to realise its political and economic power as a world hegemon.
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The trendy strategic theory is “the Thucydides trap”. As for the Greek historian, the war between Sparta and Athens was ineluctable, since Sparta could not accept Athens’s rise. The comparison is made with the US and China now. Indeed, the question is no longer if China will exceed the US but when it will happen. As the US got used to be the greatest power in the world since 1945, this new situation fuels passions, fears and anxiety in Washington.

But, in this context of war for supremacy between Beijing and Washington, the EU is not obliged to take sides, and should better find a way to protect its own interests. Europe must avoid following blindly Washington and must be the actor of its own history and not its passive spectator.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.