FRANCE, NATO AND THE EUROPEAN DEFENCE FUND Questions / Interview with Professors Matteo Bressan and Alessandro Politi
1. On 7th November, during an interview with The Economist, French President Emmanuel Macron said that “What we are currently experiencing is the brain death of NATO” referring to the Syrian issue. What is the key to understand this statement?
Professor Politi: Reading carefully the entire transcript of the interview with the French President there is a double sense of frustration: first of all towards the US partner who, for various reasons, no longer wants to be the leading country of the Alliance and intends to use a commercial approach to NATO security issues (I protect you and you buy American); secondly, towards a Europe that does not yet seem to be equipped with the tools of military sovereignty. Beyond the diagnosis, what matters is often the prognosis. What does NATO’s brain death involve? If it involves the conception of a single or binary hegemonic Europe, I do not believe there will be the consensus of which one or two weak hegemons need.
When the European military sovereignty will be achieved?
In a five-year period like the Cathedral of Note Dame and with the ability to
deter further Russian adventures and destabilization in the Mediterranean? A
European pillar in NATO is credible, if at least the five biggest countries
really go in the same direction (for example, a single fifth-generation fighter
aircraft), but in the meantime a functioning NATO offers valuable support on
the way to the Promised Land.
2. The first
reaction to this statement came from the US Ambassador to NATO, Kay Bailey
Hutchison, who showed all her “strong
disagreement with the assessment made by President Macron”. Why is
Washington now believing in NATO potential, considering that in January 2017
President Donald Trump defined it obsolete?
Professor Politi: I think it is under everyone’s eyes a certain dichotomy between the presidency of the United States and the rest of the country that makes the country work. It is an exquisitely internal and non-exclusive US issue. However, common sense makes it clear that a good insurance policy does not divest because it has lasted for many years: all the coalitions, so fashionable since 1991, would have been much less effective without decades of culture, training, technical and mental interoperability and, above all, mutual trust between allies.
Many European countries, including Germany, minimized French President
declarations. On the one hand, they recognized the real existence of
divergences within the Atlantic Alliance, on the other, they immediately
clarified that Paris adopted “radical
terms”. Therefore, do you think President Macron’s position is isolated?
Professor Politi: I believe that we have to get out of the illusion
that if we are the only ones to represent a position, then we are weak because
we are unique. This is a vice of countries whose ruling class has ceased to be
responsible. The French know very well that the consensus in NATO is built with
the consent of everyone, including Luxembourg: so they are in a defensive position,
which does not matter if they are alone or not. Allies, wisely, intend to set
up a commission to tackle the substance of the problems, as they has always
done since the 1950s, when there were fundamental issues.
In March 2019 the European Commission adopted programs to co-finance, over the
period 2019-2020, common industrial projects in the defense field with a budget
of up to € 500 million. In addition, € 25 million has been allocated to support
collaborative defence research projects in 2019. The Commission is paving the
way for a fully operational European Defence Fund for the next financial period
(2021-2027). In your opinion, how will NATO be perceived in European countries
Professor Bressan: Evolution and growth, with the establishment of the
European Defence Fund, of the European industrial and military dimension will
represent a fundamental step in transatlantic relations. The uncertainties due
to Brexit, as well as to a series of statements made by President Trump, are
leading to a significant change in the future of research and development in
the field of EU defense. It is a challenge that European countries will have to
be able to grasp and which does not affect an unquestionable fact today. NATO
is, and remains, after 70 years the best guarantee for European security both
in terms of military capabilities and costs.
Italy is showing an increased committement to PESCO projects, like France.
According to you, considering the policy followed by the current government,
which role should Italy have in a European defense structure and how can this
be coordinated with its position within NATO, as a country considered important
for the Alliance thanks also to its geographical position?
Professor Bressan: Our country is increasingly called to play a leading
role in the current international context. Geography affects choices and, considering
our position in the Mediterranean inextricably linked to safeguarding
navigation and maritime traffic, energy security and protection of cable and
network backbones that characterize the underwater dimension, Italy will have
to develop more and more its military instrument to be able to operate in order
to protect its own security and national interest even counting on its own, if
necessary. Furthermore, as net contributor of the Atlantic Alliance both in
terms of capacity and of soldiers engaged in stabilization missions, we are
called to increasingly affect NATO’s agenda to ensure that the Alliance’s
southern flank, which is inevitably the main front of most European countries,
acquires more and more equal dignity with the eastern flank. The main challenges
to the stability and security of Italy and Europe come from the southern flank,
and synergies with NATO have a fundamental importance.
Maria Elena Argano
Alessandro Politi: NATO Defence College Foundation Director.
Matteo Bressan: Professor of International Relations and Strategic Studies at LUMSA and Professor of Strategic Analysis at Link Campus University.
Interview traslated from Italian into English
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