NATO chief, Jens Stoltenberg, has just been crowned “Diplomat of the Year” by Foreign Policy, one of Washington’s most influential global affairs magazines. On accepting the honour on his visit to Washington earlier this month the secretary general hailed NATO as a “unique diplomatic force multiplier,” making the case that “when 29 nations speak with one voice, their voice is more powerful than any other in the world”.
But has Stoltenberg spoken too soon? Not all NATO members are speaking with one voice. Some are speaking with many tongues: President Emmanuel Macron in particular, with his recent comments that we are currently experiencing the brain death of NATO, and that the alliance is on the “verge of redundancy.”
Even allowing for linguistic confusions, the French President knew exactly what he was saying. He is well-known for harbouring grand ideas for a new order in European defence arrangements, and has privately told his closest circle that NATO will be gone in five years time.
With Chancellor Angela Merkel on her way out and Britain exiting the EU, the ambitious Macron is itching to carve a grander role for himself, and for France, on the continent and the wider world. It’s why he is cosying up to President Putin and has suggested bringing Russia in from the cold, believing that cooperation is preferable to confrontation and that sanctions against Russia have had their day.
With the UK heading out of the EU, France becomes Europe’s biggest military spender, giving Macron the chance to build a Gaullist vision with him as the leader of a beefed up European Defence Union. He was also the sole EU leader to veto talks with Albania and North Macedonia about accession which shows how much he wants to stay in control.
Macron’s timing could not have been worse. His remarks about NATO came just days before the 30th anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down and went down across Europe like an old lead Zeppelin. As well as being ungrateful, his remarks were considered rude given how much NATO has done to keep Western Europe safe during the Cold War years.
Even the usually placid Merkel is said to be furious with Macron, calling his comments “drastic”. At a dinner last week to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, she is said to have told him: “I understand your desire for disruptive politics. But I’m tired of picking up the pieces. Over and over, I have to glue together the cups you have broken so that we can then sit down and have a cup of tea together.”