NATO faces its contradictions

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A few days before the 70e summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) which was held in London from December 3 to 4, 2019, Emmanuel Macron congratulated himself on having awakened the Atlantic Alliance. Although irritating many Allies, the French president's remarks had the merit of bringing strategic dissonances into the open and sparking a deeper debate on the merits of the Alliance. But in view of the strong words and obvious disagreements which punctuated the London summit, the adoption of a joint declaration affirming “solidarity, unity and cohesion” is difficult to convince.

La final statement has spared all susceptibilities: reaffirmation of NATO's nuclear mission, recognition of Space as an operational environment of the Alliance, denunciation of " aggressive actions » of Russia, condemnation of terrorism « in all its forms and in all its manifestations ", recourse to a council of wise people and experts to carry out a " forward thinking aimed at strengthening the political dimension of NATO ". A press release containing all the concerns therefore, under the cover of generalized unity, but has the Alliance managed to ward off its " brain death "?


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For more than twenty years it has been repeating without conviction, at each of its summits, that it is reforming and moving towards new missions and new strategic objectives. It is clear that disagreements are not new: the Kosovo campaign (1998–1999)then American intervention in Iraq (2003), were revealing of both the strategic and political divergences and the capability imbalances between the Allies. President Macron is certainly not the first to draw attention to NATO's failings, the only difference today being that the latter faces much deeper existential challenges than it lets on.

Because according to general secretary Jens Stoltenberg, the organization is not in crisis. And yet, what should we think of the dysfunctional failings of its organization in the face of the Turkish offensive and Washington's about-face on the Syrian issue? What can we say about the European allies who confuse the Alliance with benevolent American protection? Or even threats from Washington against Europeans so that they invest more actively in their own defense but that this involvement is for the benefit of American industrialists? We must recognize that NATO can no longer operate on its own bases. The gradual American withdrawal of Western leadership is already established and even if the future tenant of the White House were of Democratic persuasion, the line initiated by Barack Obama and consolidated under Donald Trump would not experience any change. . However, many of our allies – if not all – refuse to mourn the Americans and in fact maintain a deep distrust of France, which they suspect of wanting to place the continent under its tutelage.


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It should be emphasized that it is no less NATO which is at the heart of the problem than the relationship between Europe and the United States. Until now, the Europeans have tried to respond to the evolution of American strategic priorities as if they were only new conditions for maintaining the old transatlantic contract. However, the American pivot which ensures the security and defense of Western Europe has evolved significantly since the end of the Cold War. The Pacific Ocean has become a prime strategic space for the United States. who began their strategic pivot during the Obama era, effectively creating serious doubt as to American solidarity in the event of attacks on European soil.

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The United States has increased its military presence across the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean and is working to attract potential new partners – and cultivate previously neglected relationships – through investment and aid by putting the emphasis on the alliance with Washington rather than with Beijing.

And yet the status quo adopted by many of our Allies remains unchanged, particularly for those who continue to harbor this secret nostalgia for the days when Europe sheltered comfortably under an inexpensive American umbrella. Therefore, it is not surprising to find the isolation of the tenant of the Elysée when the latter points out the ambiguity of his American counterpart and its consequences on the European security architecture. However, the unilaterality of the Americans in the decisions taken in security matters further underlines Washington's strategic disinterest in Europe because it directly undermines the security interests of the Europeans but also the transatlantic dialogue on these issues. In addition to the attacks on the merits of Article 5 – that of the mutual assistance clause – it is also Article 4 which provides that “ the parties will consult each other whenever the opinion of one of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of one of the parties is threatened » which is scratched in turn.


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Thus, suffering from a certain lack of cohesion and confidence, there seems to be nothing good in continually widening the table to nations that have nothing to contribute on a strategic and military level. What security contribution can states like Montenegro – a country whose defense budget barely reaches 100 million euros – make to NATO? The same question can be transposed to the Albanian and Macedonian cases whose armed forces cover a very limited, if not derisory, spectrum of capabilities. There is no valid argument for the accession of these countries, except the increase in the blood pressure of the tenant of the Kremlin.

The French proposal to clean up the European security architecture by resuming a permanent dialogue with Russia is an interesting proposal, likely to ease the tensions which have undermined the continent's security environment for more than a decade. But rallying European partners to this view is certainly the most difficult challenge for Emmanuel Macron because he must not neglect the feelings of these countries regarding the Russian threat. In this regard, the veto opposed by France to the accession of Albania and North Macedonia to NATO has upset many capitals in the region, an act seen as yet another expression of France's historical skepticism towards formerly communist states. In fact, this refusal conceals a completely different reality: the enlargement of the Alliance has caused many more problems than it has resolved.

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The Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jacek Czaputowitcz, publicly suspected France of being “ Russia's Trojan horse " and claimed that the lack of cohesion within NATO was caused " not by the lack of commitments from the United States but obviously, from France »

Indeed, by choosing to integrate new allies without an army or means, the Alliance has only further widened the gap between the means and the objectives pursued to the point of blurring the strategic purpose. In 1957, Lord Ismay, then the organization's first secretary general, explained that NATO's mission was to " keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down ". However, with the fall of the USSR, the formula no longer worked and NATO launched a search for a new reason for being and replaced doctrinal nothingness with the enlargement process, without however redefining his mission. Unwittingly, it fueled this new confrontation with Moscow, justifying de facto the extension of its existence.

For Bertrand Badie, professor emeritus of universities at the IEP in Paris, NATO has become “ a sort of alliance mixing diverse interests, confused identity and vague values » and to Jean-Dominique Giuliani, president of the Robert Schuman Foundation, to emphasize that “ Europeans always rely on others to ensure their defense ". These observations are correct, if not clairvoyant, particularly in light of the tragic death of thirteen French soldiers, losses which push us to question, once again, the place of Europeans in their own defense: did they fully aware of what is happening on the peripheries of Europe? In view of French solitude in a region that is so strategic for Europe, the dichotomy between the security interests of our allies and the reality on the ground creates deep doubt about the propensity of the Allies to make a clean slate of what François Mitterrand very aptly named in 1991: the “ Holy Alliance ».


Axel Trinquier - European defense issues

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