BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - French President Emmanuel Macron claimed that a lack of U.S. leadership is causing the “brain death” of the NATO military alliance, insisting in an interview published Thursday that the European Union must step up and start acting as a strategic world power.
“What we are currently experiencing is the brain death of NATO,” Macron told The Economist magazine. He said the United States under President Donald Trump appears to be “turning its back on us,” notably by pulling troops out of northeast Syria without notice.
Trump surprised his NATO partners with last month's troop withdrawal. NATO plays no role in Syria, apart from helping the coalition fighting the Islamic State extremist group. But the move was seen by Turkey, another NATO ally, as a green light to invade the region.
Trump also wrong-footed the allies by announcing a troop draw-down in Afghanistan and then declaring that peace talks with the Taliban were cancelled after a bomb attack killed a U.S. soldier. NATO has played a major security role in the country since 2003, but its future there is now unclear.
Beyond that, the U.S. leader publicly berated other leaders at a May 2017 summit for failing to boost their military budgets. Trump's preoccupation with defense spending has been a constant theme since he came to office in 2016 and is expected to feature at the next NATO summit, in London on Dec. 3-4.
Macron said that the European members of the 29-nation alliance “should reassess the reality of what NATO is in the light of the commitment of the United States.”
More broadly, Trump's trade tariffs against the EU also have rankled European members of NATO. And his decision to pull the United States out of the Paris climate agreement particularly annoyed Macron.
In the interview, Macron said that Trump “doesn't share our idea of the European project.” He added that Europe stands on “the edge of a precipice” and must start thinking like a geopolitical power, otherwise it will “no longer be in control of our destiny.”
NATO did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said recently that the allies “are doing more together than we have done for many years.”
“NATO has implemented the biggest reinforcement of our collective defense in decades - the biggest adaptation of our alliance since the end of the Cold War,” Stoltenberg told reporters on Oct. 24. “The U.S. is not decreasing its presence in Europe but actually increasing its presence in Europe.”
The United States is the biggest and most influential member of NATO. It spends more on its defense budget than all the others combined.