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. How should we understand this statement?
Professor Politi – Reading carefully the entire transcript of the interview with the French President one can see 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 European Union 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 dually hegemonic Europe, I do not believe there will be the consensus that these 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 pull 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 this “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’s potential, considering that in January 2017 President Donald Trump defined it obsolete?
Professor Politi – I think that a dichotomy between the presidency of the United States and the rest of the country that makes the country work is in full view of everyone. It is an exquisitely internal US issue and also other countries experience this conundrum.
However, common sense tells you not to ditch a good insurance just because lasts since decades: all the recent coalitions, so fashionable since 1991, would have been much less effective without decades of common culture, training, technical and mental interoperability and, above all, mutual trust between allies.
3. Many European countries, including Germany, minimized the 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”. Do you think President Macron’s position is isolated?
Professor Politi: I believe that we Italians have to stop deluding ourselves that, if we are the only ones upholding a position, then we are weak because we are alone. The French know very well that consensus in NATO is built with the consent of everyone, including Luxembourg: hence they are in deep defence mode, and they do not care if they are alone or not. The Allies, wisely, intend to set up a commission to tackle the substance of the problem, as they have always done since the 1950s when fundamental issues were at stake.
4. In March 2019 the European Commission adopted programmes to co-finance, over the period 2019-2020, common industrial projects in the defence 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 after 2021?
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 different statements made by President Trump, are leading to a significant change in the future of research and development in the field of EU defence. It is a challenge that European countries will have to be able to face 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.
5. Italy is showing an increased commitment to PESCO projects, like France. Considering the current government’s policy, which role should Italy have in a European defence structure and how can this fit with its NATO role, 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 region, that is unquestionably he main front of most European countries, acquires an equal importance vis-à-vis the eastern region. 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.
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