French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday stood by his controversial 2019 comment that NATO was experiencing “brain death,” but said the war in Ukraine had given the Western military alliance an “electroshock,” and would help provide “strategic clarification” for its role.
Setting out his campaign platform ahead of France’s presidential election next month, Macron told a press conference he took “full responsibility” for what he said in 2019, but added that “Russia has just provided an electroshock … the awakening” with its invasion of Ukraine.
“The war launched by [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin brings a clarification, and creates at our borders and on our European soil an unusual threat which gives a strategic clarification to NATO,” Macron said. “Yet, I continue to think that we need to rebuild a new European order of security, that the war today in Ukraine makes it even more indispensable.”
In 2019, Macron caused a stir by saying Europe needed to “wake up” and raise its game on defense and security following what he saw then as a collapse of U.S.-EU strategic cooperation within NATO and other developments.
“What we are currently experiencing is the brain death of NATO,” Macron said in an interview then with the Economist, adding that Europe was standing on “the edge of a precipice” and needed to start thinking of itself strategically as a geopolitical power.
On Thursday, asked by a POLITICO reporter if he would reconsider his 2019 comments, Macron said he had sought then to launch a “strategic clarification” of NATO’s role, adding that work in that direction had already been done in France and in the EU.
He said, for example, that EU leaders will “conclude” work on the EU’s “strategic compass” — championed by France to bolster the bloc’s military capabilities — at next week’s European Council in Brussels. He also stressed that a NATO summit in June would “redefine the alliance’s frameworks.”
Work on a NATO rethink is underway. In 2020, the alliance’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg set up an expert group to work on a future orientation of NATO. Stoltenberg himself said earlier this month that Russia’s war on Ukraine had forced the military alliance to launch an urgent rethink of its long-term strategy.