DN - Defence Notes

France, Germany bring NATO plans after 'brain dead' row

20th November 2019 - 14:59 GMT | by ​Agence France-Presse in Brussels

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France and Germany were to outline separate proposals for reforming NATO on Wednesday after President Emmanuel Macron slammed the alliance as ‘brain dead’, causing uproar just weeks before a crucial summit.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian will use a one-day meeting with his 28 NATO counterparts to explain Macron's damning assessment of the 70-year-old alliance and offer ideas for improvement.

Macron argued in an Economist interview that Turkey's military incursion into Syria and US unpredictability under President Donald Trump indicated a failure of strategic thinking at NATO.

The German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas will also make a proposal at the meeting to set up an expert group chaired by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to strengthen the alliance's political thinking.

‘NATO has recently had to experience some stress tests,’ a spokesman for Maas said in Berlin.

‘We want confidence to be regained in NATO. The US remains Europe's most important ally, but it is also clear that we have to develop NATO further.’

Stoltenberg, who will travel to Paris next week to confront Macron in person about his comments, welcomed the German proposal.

‘The aim of the proposal is to consider how we can strengthen NATO as a platform for addressing the political challenges we face together,’ he said.

French officials insist Macron made a bold and necessary step by starkly spelling out truths that other allies preferred to gloss over.

‘We aren't trying to win a popularity contest but we want to be heard and understood,’ said one.

But Macron's arguments that Europe should try to ensure its own security without relying on the US provoked anger from eastern European allies who feel directly threatened by Russia.

And his push for a more politically minded NATO was met with bemusement from some diplomats, who pointed out that in recent years France itself has been firmly against such a move.

Away from the political wrangling, foreign ministers will prepare the agenda for next month's summit in London, lining up a series of announcements to put a positive gloss on the gathering.

They also hope that some eye-catching actions will appease the mercurial US president, who will arrive at the summit under the cloud of impeachment hearings back home.

The ministers are set to formally designate space as a domain of conflict - alongside land, sea, air and cyber - though Stoltenberg insisted NATO would not ‘weaponise’ space.

They will also sign off a report on China featuring some 24 different areas for allies to work on, though the paper will not be made public.

While China lies well outside NATO's traditional European-Atlantic sphere, Stoltenberg said Beijing's growing role as a major military power and heavy investment in new defence technology had implications for alliance security.

The ministers will also agree a new plan for deterring hybrid warfare attacks and another for ensuring the security of energy supply.

Trump's bugbear - European defence spending - will also feature heavily in London.

NATO will be hoping Germany's announcement last week of a boost for its military spending will go some way to head off a repeat of the 2018 Brussels summit, when Trump publicly berated Chancellor Angela Merkel for not doing enough on defence.

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