German chancellor Angela Merkel made a spirited defense of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), saying Europe is currently too weak to defend itself without the support of the US-led military alliance.
Merkel’s comments in a speech to the Bundestag were clearly directed at French President Emmanuel Macron, who has cast doubt on NATO’s future by suggesting the 29-nation organisation is “brain dead.”
NATO heads of state are scheduled to meet in London from December 3-4.
“Even more than during the Cold War, maintaining NATO is today in our own best interest,” Merkel told lawmakers in the lower house of parliament in Berlin.
“Europe cannot currently defend itself alone, we are dependent on this trans-Atlantic alliance and that’s why it’s right for us to work for this alliance and take on more responsibility,” she said, adding that European ambitions for a larger defense role ought to be carried out within NATO.
The EU must develop a common policy vis-a-vis China, which offers a competing model, but not close itself off, Merkel said.
“But I don’t know whether the answer to systemic competition — and we know about this from the Cold War — should be isolation,” the chancellor told the Bundestag, the lower house of Germany’s parliament. “The answer to systemic competition must also be that we confidently assume we can set our standards without proclaiming total isolation.”
In response to domestic criticism over Germany’s arms exports, Merkel said that China and Russia shouldn’t be allowed to become the only weapons supplier to Africa.
One couldn’t support those fighting terrorism and then tell them they need to find their own supply of weapons, she said.
Regarding the situation in northern Syria, any solution would have to include Russia and Turkey, Merkel said.
Merkel reiterated a pledge to raise defense spending to 1.5% of gross domestic product by 2024 and towards a target agreed with NATO allies of 2% by the start of the 2030s.
Macron’s hard power ambitions run into reality
Emmanuel Macron, it’s fair to say, is not a military guy.
The French president was a schoolboy actor, remains an unapologetic intellectual and dreams of one day giving up politics to become a writer.
But he’s also made clear his ambitions to become Europe’s pre-eminent leader, at a time of intense challenges for the European Union and as Germany’s Angela Merkel heads into the tail end of her political career.
Macron’s diagnosis is Europe needs to more strongly defend its interests: He’s said its reliance on NATO for security is mindless given the increasing ambivalence of the US to the alliance. And he’ll regularly climb aboard French battleships to call on the EU to better coordinate its defenses.
But his public lecturing of other European states is putting some leaders off. Macron’s push for a pan-Europe army is struggling for traction. Meanwhile, France has problems of its own. Its biggest overseas mission is on the southern fringe of the Sahara desert, where 4,500 troops are trying to contain extremist militants.
The loss of 13 French soldiers in a helicopter crash is a blow to an operation already struggling. Malians blame their former colonial masters for failing to stem the violence, and in the capital protesters are burning the French flag.