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French Leader Questions U.S. Commitment To Defend Its Allies


It was an alliance created after the Second World War as a bulwark against the Soviet Union. Over the years, NATO came together to meet a range of threats. Now, though, a world leader is questioning NATO's future. In a scathing interview with The Economist, French President Emmanuel Macron said NATO is experiencing a, quote, "brain death." He pointed to a lack of coordination and waning leadership from the United States. Fabrice Pothier was the head of policy planning under two NATO secretary generals. And he joins me now on the line from Brussels. Thank you so much for being with us. Let me just start off by asking what you made of Emmanuel Macron's comments.

FABRICE POTHIER: Well, first, good morning, Rachel. Well, I think what Emmanuel Macron is doing overall - and he's done the same few weeks ago on Russia - he's trying to lead a disruptive foreign policy. He's trying to shake the old trees and inject kind of new approaches and new idea. And I think with that, we - it's - we can understand the value of this approach. However, what we've seen on the NATO issue is that this disruptive approach is more destructive than constructive because what you have is the French president challenging the value or the relevance of the collective defense clause, Article 5.

And the moment you start to challenge that, you basically start to inject doubt about whether NATO is a real value proposition or not. And this is - basically, he's creating NATO's brand death by just mentioning it and supporting it. And unfortunately, there was nothing that much constructive in what he had to say. What's the alternative to NATO?

MARTIN: Well, was he diminishing the importance of the alliance overall, or was he just saying, hey, Europe, it's clear the United States is is receding from NATO leadership, and we need to step up?

POTHIER: Well, yes, there was a bit of that. And I think this is fair - a fair argument to make. But there was a bit more than that. He was, I think, challenging the very purpose and the very validity of NATO. And by doing that, he's saying you know, basically, NATO is no longer something that is covering our back, and we need to start thinking about alternatives. However, he didn't say much more in terms of alternative than saying we need, you know, to step in, and we need more European defense. But the reality is European defense today and even in 10, 15 years is not going to be able to replace NATO in terms of pure capabilities and in terms of collective cohesion. But I think - that's why I'm saying being disruptive is great, but you can also - it can become more destructive than constructive. And I think this is the outcome of this interview.

MARTIN: What do you think would be constructive change for NATO members to engage in?

POTHIER: Well, I think if I really want to be surprised by what the president - the French president say, I would've expected him to say, because I consider NATO not that much more relevant anymore. Therefore, the French nuclear arrangements are now going to be extended to all the European member states. I think that would have been a real way to go, you know, further in this kind of more radical, destructive approach because then you would have said, OK, NATO no longer works the way we want, but I'm willing to replace part of the assurances that you have within NATO traditionally from the U.S. by extending the French nuclear umbrella to all other member states. And I think that would have changed the conversation.

MARTIN: Fabrice Pothier, NATO's former head of policy planning, senior defense fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. We appreciate your time. Thank you.

POTHIER: Pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.