President calls for "strategic debate" within NATO

NATO – Press conference by M. Emmanuel Macron, President of the Republic, following the NATO summit

London, 4 December 2019

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So I wanted to set out the main conclusions and the results of this summit.

First of all there was, as it were, the theatre of discussions, and the beginnings of a strategic clarification which I, as you know, regard as essential within the Alliance.

I had the opportunity to voice my views a few weeks ago, and it may have sparked reactions at times. The purpose of what I said was essentially to ensure that I personally didn’t spend this third summit solely discussing the member states’ budgetary contributions, as was almost entirely the case with the two previous summits, but rather [for us to] question ourselves – as I believe is our duty to our soldiers and fellow citizens – about the Alliance’s strategic goals. And I take responsibility for having initiated that debate; it seems to me essential, for several reasons.

The first is the profound change in the strategic context, 70 years after the Alliance’s creation and 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. And so this summit was one of celebration; that’s why it was held in London, and I want to thank Prime Minister Johnson for his welcome and for organizing this summit.

But it’s also a summit that should make us realize that the threat isn’t the same as 70 or even 30 years ago. Have we learnt every lesson? No. The threats are more diffuse, new players have emerged, the fight against terrorism is central to the allies’ security concerns, and the relationship with Russia also has to be rethought. We discussed all these issues, and I’ll come back to them.

Secondly, because the development in the American posture over several years now is proving to be long-term and ultimately justifies a rebalancing of the Alliance. The Americans have chosen several times to leave theatres of operations regarded as being in Europe’s neighbourhood, for reasons that we totally respect, and United States President Donald Trump’s choice, reaffirmed several times, is also to reduce the American contribution to NATO financially and therefore ask the Europeans to commit more. It’s a real change that requires strategic thinking within the Alliance. And also, clearly, some issues raised by the decisions of certain allies, and especially Turkey – both about the definition of terrorism and the acquisition of new weapons systems like the S-400 – have raised issues of consistency for us. All these reasons led me to speak out and talk to Secretary General Stoltenberg, when he came to Paris a few days ago, about the need to launch a review, a strategic exercise, and so [this] enabled us, during all the bilateral talks and the discussions around the table this morning, to express ourselves very freely on these issues.

The exercise we began and which will shape the coming months comprises several challenges, in my view. The first issue, the first pillar of this thinking and of what we discussed this morning, is how to ensure Europe’s security and stability in today’s strategic context. As I was saying, this requires us Europeans to implement practically the lessons we must learn from the rebalancing wished for by the Americans. I said this yesterday during my discussion with President Trump: we must learn the lessons of this wish, not merely from a budgetary standpoint but also from an operational capability standpoint, and so it’s important for the Europeans to re-engage. We’ve been doing so for two years, by building a Defence Europe, and we must take it on board within NATO. And I say this extremely clearly: it’s not an alternative to NATO, it’s a pillar within NATO. And so [it’s] also true that I’m not proposing, and never have proposed, to replace NATO with Defence Europe; I don’t think we currently take sufficient ownership of this Defence Europe within NATO. When I see the European Union mentioned in the same terms as the United Nations, I don’t think it’s fair. And so the rebalancing is possible only if these pillars exist – its North American and its European pillar – within the Alliance.

Europe’s security and stability also depend on the relationship we want to forge with Russia. I’m not at all naïve on this point. I’m even less so because I’ve had experience of it, as it were, and we know the areas of interference, the policies of influence, the violations of international law that may exist, including on the chemical issue, which have also, in the past, led France to shoulder its responsibilities under my mandate. I’ve always been very clear, too, about the fact that the security and sovereignty interests of our European partners and our allies are an inalienable priority. In this regard, over the past two days I’ve been able to meet most of the leaders present, not only from Eastern Europe but also the Baltic and Nordic countries, to reassure them about France’s commitments and the framework in which I wanted to organize this dialogue with Russia – a framework which can under no circumstances, in no way whatsoever, sacrifice either their security or their interests: on the contrary. We’ll step up and show solidarity, and this must fully incorporate their interests. However, if we want to move forward and stabilize peace in Europe, we must begin this dialogue again. It’s a dialogue that requires deterrence and credible organization; that’s why I welcome the fact that we’ve proceeded to accept the plans for Poland and the Baltic states, which were so long-awaited; but it also requires a change in the posture towards Russia.

Our alliance has a history; it also has a geography, as I’ve said several times. The fact is that Europe’s security and stability can be solidly guaranteed only by establishing a solid and demanding dialogue with Russia. And so we’ve started setting out its terms; we’ll continue to work on it with our partners. This also means making progress on certain issues, and in this context we’ll have to have a Normandy-format summit in Paris on 9 December, which will therefore bring together Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France. This dialogue about security and stability in Europe must also focus on arms control. I want to reaffirm here France’s commitment to the existing instruments of arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation and to the Alliance’s initiatives in this area.

But we must also be clear-sighted, and I believe this discussion is existential for us as Europeans. We’ve all observed Russia’s violations of the so-called INF Treaty. Our American ally chose to denounce it, because I remind you that this key treaty for European security was a bilateral treaty. I note that the bilateral arrangements dating from the Cold War on this point are out of date. But what I expressed and shared very clearly with all my colleagues, and what we must now collectively make progress on for Europe’s security and stability, once again, is to imagine a new process enabling us to restore safeguards at least equivalent to those provided by the INF Treaty, while taking into account the development of contemporary weapons and the interests of us all.

Very simply, what does this mean? We must restore a legal framework protecting us from the deployment on the Russian side of weapons that can hit European soil, which is what the treaty protected us against. Secondly, we must better incorporate the defence of several of our partners, in particular those furthest to the east, closest to the border, because, I remind you, those under 500 kilometres from the border weren’t covered by the INF Treaty. We must incorporate their interests into this discussion. And we must also take these developments into account, as I was saying – the threat of Iskander missiles to Poland and the Baltic states seems to me an essential point to take into account in any new discussion about ground-to-ground capabilities in Europe – and therefore incorporate this agenda. What’s certain is that on this issue, we Europeans must set out a very clear position. Personally, I’d like the Europeans to be parties to a new treaty, and I’d then like us to discuss it in a NATO framework and talk on this basis to Russia and China. It’s the Americans’ wish to broaden this discussion to the Chinese; I think it’s appropriate. However, I don’t think it should be a precondition for an essential discussion with Russia, which affects the Europeans first and foremost. So I debated these issues, not only yesterday with President Trump, Prime Minister Johnson and Chancellor Merkel but also around the table this morning. For me this is the first pillar – security and stability in Europe – and a response to the questions I’ve just raised is essential in the context of the incipient strategic reflexion.

The second pillar, the second thrust of the strategic debate we must have about this same exercise in redefining our collective defence is basically to set out its purposes and practicalities today. That’s the question I asked the other day in a slightly direct way when I hosted a meeting with Secretary General Stoltenberg in Paris: who is the enemy? It’s a question we must ask ourselves. When the Alliance was created, the answer was simple: Russia, the Soviet Union. That was natural; it was how things were structured. They’ve changed in the past 30 years. Would everyone around the table describe Russia as an enemy? I don’t think so. It’s currently a threat in certain areas; that’s a reality, and we’ve experienced it in cyber activities and certain clearly-defined areas. It’s a threat for the neighbourhood; the Ukraine crisis demonstrates that, as do several frozen conflicts. It’s also a geographical neighbour, and that, again, is a reality. It’s also a partner on certain issues, on which we’re making headway together and having concrete discussions. It’s a power we’re working with on certain issues that we’re also making progress on.

Since 2014, we’ve taken the decisions required in view of the [Ukraine] conflict. Collective defence obviously means this and involves this pressure, but today we must be able to set out the preconditions and terms for resuming a strategic dialogue essential for the Alliance. Here too I’d like to have a much more homogeneous European position within the Alliance. That’s central to my determination, as I was telling you earlier. I’d like what France has initiated to be the focus, first of all, of very strong Franco-German coordination – I spoke at length to the Chancellor about this yesterday – and then of the essential European consultation in the coming months.

As for the case of China, it’s inevitably different. While I believe it’s fundamental for us to have a strategic discussion about China’s military rise and its consequences for the stability of the North Atlantic region, as well as about technological issues, including 5G, in terms of interoperability, I don’t believe, either, that China can become the chosen focus of our collective defence. So there are strategic issues which we must tackle – technological and profoundly strategic – but which can’t be thought about in terms of purely military purposes.

Terrorism, on the other hand, in particular the terrorism emanating from Daesh [so-called ISIL] and al-Qaeda, is our enemy – in other words, it seeks to kill our fellow citizens without any desire for negotiation, and our forces are engaged in combat operations to destroy it. Let’s be clear, every country has its policy for combating terrorism, in terms of what arises from its own national soil and the fight against groups active there. But we’ve seen geopolitical territorial plans emerging for these new forms of terrorism: the territorial caliphate in the Levant, which justified an international coalition, engaging the allies and NATO within the coalition, and today we clearly see it at work in the Sahel, in particular around ISIS-GS [Islamic State in the Greater Sahara], and therefore also with an organized terrorist presence which threatens some of our allies, some of our partners, but which also threatens our nationals and our territories, and I’ll come back to this in a moment as regards the Sahel.

The third strategic focus for discussion, in my view, is the various allies’ rights and duties. Indeed, collective defence involves being there, answering the call when our allies’ security interests are at stake. This is the purpose of Article 5, and I was able to reaffirm to all our partners over these two days, and very clearly this morning, that France will deliver when it comes to showing this unequivocal solidarity, which requires the aims to have been clarified beforehand. When we don’t share proposed definitions of terrorism with some, we don’t consider ourselves bound by any kind of solidarity. When I talk about rights and duties, it also means not presenting allies with a fait accompli when their security interests are at stake. It’s because I respect Turkey’s security interests, the heavy toll terrorism has exacted on it and because we’re allies, because NATO is a member – as I was saying – of the coalition in the Levant, that I believe that there has to be intensified dialogue on the situation in north-east Syria in order to avoid any resurgence of Daesh.

We’ve had a lack of dialogue and respect from allies on this. I welcome my very useful meeting yesterday at the British Prime Minister’s residence with the British Prime Minister, Chancellor Merkel and President Erdoğan, which precisely clarified, on the issue, the framework of our intervention and reaffirmed the priority of the fight against Daesh, and also reaffirm our joint commitment on the refugees issue and our joint commitment on politically resolving the conflict in Syria. I can come back to this when answering your questions, if you wish.

Similarly, these rights and duties involve respecting the sovereignty of allies; here I very clearly want to support the concerns expressed by Greece this morning in response to the agreement signed between the Libyan government and Turkey. With the same view to having a genuine, frank dialogue with allies, I’d also like us to be able to technically assess the consequences of the sovereign choices made by some of our allies to acquire military equipment, and the compatibility of those choices, especially with the Alliance’s anti-air defence. I was able to talk to President Erdoğan about this yesterday as well, and reaffirm it this morning, in the same terms, around the table.

As you can see, all these priorities, these three bases for discussion are for me central, firstly, to our very useful discussion this morning, and central to the discussions I had with all the counterparts I met, and the discussions I’m about to have with my Polish counterpart. But it shows the need to clarify many strategic points for our alliance. We have a strength, an achievement: interoperability, the calibre of our soldiers and the work they do together. This achievement can’t be weakened by political and strategic ambiguities which exist today and so must be removed. Our discussions have allowed us to remove some of them and also get some of the plans approved, as I mentioned. It must now lead to a formal mandate in the coming weeks, between now and the first quarter of 2020, a mandate on the basis of which Secretary General Stoltenberg, accompanied by a group of high-level experts, will have to put forward proposals to be submitted to the allies.

I want to finish here, as I mentioned, with a more specific point about the situation in the Sahel. As you know, I came here, to London, at a time when we’ve just lost 13 soldiers in the battle we’re waging against terrorism in that region. I wanted here, very clearly, to explain the context of this again and share a few convictions and the fruit of the work carried out over the past several weeks. France has been conducting important work in the Sahel for five years, with several victories and some positive points. We’ve been able to help several of our partners and put them in a position where they’re able to defend themselves. I’m thinking of the work France conducted with Mauritania to really strengthen its own capabilities, equip it and train its army. We also ensured – through Operation Serval, then Barkhane – the defence of Mali’s territory first and numerous counter-terrorism operations, which greatly weakened and destabilized many networks and several [enemy] fighting units in the region. It’s linked to the courage, professionalism and commitment of our soldiers – at their sides too, and I want to thank them for it – and of several European allies who have been actively engaged alongside us since the outset. This has been possible thanks to our troops, who have been over there for five years now.

Nevertheless, we’ve got to face up to situation today, and my responsibility today is to reassess the terms of our presence. Firstly, I think the legitimacy of France’s and our forces’ presence has been confirmed today and trust in our armed forces has constantly stayed the same. Indeed, the legitimacy of our presence and our intervention in the Sahel has been confirmed because in my view it’s still part of our collective security. No region in the world is confronted with the same mixture of challenges: terrorism, climate change, population expansion and the rise of trafficking.

Our responsibility is clearly to tackle this, but not alone. This is the second point I think is essential today. In the very short term we must re-clarify the political framework and conditions of our intervention in the Sahel, first and foremost with the five African states which are members of the G5 Sahel. I’m waiting for them to clarify and formalize their requests to France and the international community. Do they want us there? Do they need us? I want clear, approved answers to these questions. I neither can nor want to have French soldiers anywhere in the Sahel while ambiguity persists about anti-French movements sometimes promoted by political leaders.

The second political clarification I’m waiting for from our partners comes out of the vital political work to be carried out on their side in several countries so that the military and also development work we’re carrying out in the framework of the Alliance for the Sahel can be genuinely beneficial. We can’t carry out this political work on their behalf, it’s entirely their responsibility, particularly when it comes to Mali and Burkina Faso. For all these reasons and in order to get these clarifications, I’ve invited the five African heads of state concerned who are involved in the G5 Sahel to Pau on 16 December to come up with specific solutions to these points. Their replies are a necessary precondition today for our maintained presence. So we’ll have an opportunity in Pau to pay tribute to the 5th Combat Helicopter Regiment, to which seven of our fallen soldiers belonged, and we’ll subsequently have the opportunity to hold a Barkhane summit allowing these clarifications to be expressed.

On this basis, and this I think is the third point of this clarification, I’d like us to organize a stronger international presence and build a new coalition around us in the Sahel in conjunction with our European partners already there. I was able to talk about this briefly this morning and in greater detail yesterday evening, with Chancellor Merkel in particular. Those are the concluding points I wanted to make about this summit and the few clarifications I wanted to make before now answering all your questions./.

Published on 04/02/2020

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