Is Macron Right to Suggest Trump has Weakened NATO?

French President Emmanuel Macron claimed last week that NATO was brain dead and its core collective defence commitments in doubt, blaming US President Donald Trump for causing the alliance to crumble. Indeed, the lack of a unified response among Western allies to Iran’s recent announcement that they are enriching their uranium supplies is alarming.

Last Saturday, Tehran stated that it is now enriching its uranium to five per cent, which proves they are betraying their commitments to the 2015 deal Barack Obama negotiated. The Islamic Republic has blamed their decision on the US for abandoning the 2015 agreement and reimposing crippling sanctions. The Natanz and Fordow plants have now become Iran’s uranium plants.

Because there was no united message among NATO states to condemn Iran for enriching its uranium supplies, this has left a void for other nations to fill. The only country that has demanded all sides return to the negotiating table in the midst of this crisis is the United Arab Emirates (UAE). A senior UAE official also said Gulf countries should be involved in discussions aimed at reaching a new deal that can curb Tehran’s nuclear activities.

Furthermore, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said new talks with the Islamic Republic should also address concerns over its ballistic missile programme and regional interventions through proxy groups. He also added that the US and EU states should agree on a joint approach to this issue. NATO’s failure to tackle Iran’s nuclear activities sooner adds credence to Macron’s statement to a certain extent.

However, Trump does not deserve the full blame for causing NATO’s unity to fracture in recent years. Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel told The Economist that the French President’s words were “too drastic”, reaffirming her country’s commitment to the alliance.

Although the US President’s style of leadership has failed to convince his European allies that the 2015 Iran accord needs to be renegotiated, it does not mean that he was right to highlight the flaws with the agreement. Obama’s deal failed to tackle Iran’s sponsorship of terrorist groups like Hezbollah and it did not prevent Tehran from acquiring a nuclear bomb altogether. In hindsight, he should have persuaded his NATO allies to support him in his calls to address the agreement’s flaws instead of cancelling it altogether and imposing fresh sanctions on the Islamic Republic, which have only inflamed tensions between both sides. Equally, EU member states are at fault for condemning Trump’s actions and for failing to produce their own alternative to the 2015 agreement in its absence.

However, other factors have fractured NATO cooperation. The EU’s treaty-based defence framework called Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) is also playing a significant role in undermining NATO. It aims to jointly develop defence capabilities and make them available for EU military operations. Ellen Lord, US Under Secretary of Defence, and Andrea Thompson, Under Secretary of State, wrote a joint letter to Federica Mogherini warning that PESCO would prevent companies based outside the EU from participating in military projects. The EU’s drive towards military integration will rival NATO in the long-term.

European states have played a substantial role in undermining NATO by failing to meet their defence spending targets. According to NATO figures published last year, countries that meet or exceed that 2 per cent target are: the US on 3.6 per cent, Greece on 2.2 per cent, Estonia 2.14 per cent, the UK 2.10 per cent, and Poland on 2 per cent. France spends 1.8 per cent and Germany 1.2 per cent. If indebted nations like Greece can afford their NATO targets, so can Germany. This is one area where Trump has called for real leadership and nations like France have failed to comply.

Macron is somewhat correct; NATO’s core defence commitments are in doubt. Their squabbling over Iran has caused the West to retreat from demonstrating a united front in tackling this issue. But the EU’s drive towards a defence union and the failure of EU nations to meet their own NATO targets are bigger factors.