Last November, French president Emanuel Macron shocked and puzzled many when he suggested that NATO is becoming brain dead. Angela Merkel condemned Macron’s “drastic words.” NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also reacted swiftly to rebuff Macron, while praising Washington’s commitment to the organization. Ten days later — and ahead of the NATO summit in London — Marcon reinforced his remarks while standing alongside Stoltenberg, suggesting the alliance has become too focused on budget issues instead of evolving geopolitics.
President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump campaign manager tests positive for COVID-19 Trump given Remdesivir as treatment for COVID-19 infection ICE launching billboard campaign highlighting ‘at-large immigration violators’ MORE’s response that Macron’s NATO comments were “disrespectful” was on point.
Macron’s well-planned rhetoric was meant to steer media attention toward America’s reduced support for the alliance while propping up France as leading the way. At the same time, Macron worked quietly on positioning France with Russia and the United Arab Emirates to support a military coup in Libya in order to gain access to the war-torn country’s vast riches.
France’s destructive role in destabilizing Libya by supporting the Haftar war machine and unprecedented coordination with Vladimir Putin resulted in a significant presence of Russia-backed Wagner Group fighters, as well as the establishment of a Russian military base in Sirte, prompting AFRICOM to raise the alert in Washington. Without Turkey’s military intervention in Libya, called for by the internationally recognized government in Tripoli, there would now be several Russian military bases in Libya, seriously endangering the southern flank of European and NATO security.
Macron’s pretense has been on full display with the Libya crisis. While France has been quick to condemn Turkey’s actions in Libya, it has turned a blind — yet complicit — eye to interference by other countries. The colossal defeat of both Haftar’s forces and France’s foreign policy aspirations in Libya only further antagonized Macron’s resentment towards Turkey, a NATO ally. And yet, Macron continues his attempts to maneuver and impose French influence in Libya. For example, at the United Nations last week, Macron announced a new initiative to bring together and re-engage Libya’s neighboring countries to help create a solution to Libya’s conflicts.
In reality, what Libya needs is for the UN Security Council to appoint a new UN special envoy for Libya, to continue Ghassan Salame’s work toward a permanent political solution. This was within reach and ready to be announced at the Ghadames National Conference. The conference, tirelessly organized by UNSMIL over 18 months, intended to set the new elections, among other important issues. It never took place because of Haftar’s offensive against Western Libya, an effort that Macron supported.
The UN Security Council should heed the request presented by Taher El Sonni, the Libyan Permanent Representative to the UN, during the UN General Assembly: A new UN special envoy for Libya must be appointed to continue Salame’s good work. The task is made all the more complicated by the social and political wreckage Haftar created within Libya.
Outside of Libya, recent heightened tensions due to the maritime dispute between Greece and Turkey gave Macron a new opportunity to reassert France’s role in the region. Macron sent jets and warships to the Eastern Mediterranean to support Greece, but under whose auspices? France does not share a maritime border in the Eastern Mediterranean, nor did the EU call upon Macron to send warships to those waters. The French tout de force has already produced some results as France will sell Rafale fighter aircraft to Greece, a deal that will certainly help France’s faltering economy, shaken by the longest strikes in decades.
When it comes to the tensions between Turkey and Greece in the Eastern Mediterranean, the UNCLOS (UN Convention for the Law of the Sea) endorses the coastal waters equidistance principle as a method to determine maritime borders “from the nearest point of the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea of each of the Two States is measured.” This is the approach France should be taking instead of ratcheting up an already tense situation.
It is Germany’s ongoing diplomatic efforts, and not France, that exemplifies true EU leadership by working seriously to bring NATO allies Greece and Turkey to the negotiating table.
Last year Macron suggested that the Alliance needs “a wakeup call.” He is spot on: His recklessness should be on the very top of the discussion agenda.
Sasha Toperich is senior executive vice president of the Transatlantic Leadership Network. From 2013 to 2018, he was a senior fellow and director of the Mediterranean Basin, Middle East and Gulf initiative at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, D.C.