A German response to Macron

By Ulrich Speck

In an op-ed for Der Spiegel on Sunday 11 November, German foreign minister Heiko Maas has responded to Macron’s interview with the Economist, in which the French president declared Nato “brain dead”. (German version of Maas’ op-ed here, English version here.)

Maas welcomes the start of a debate about „question of what international framework we need to establish in order to safeguard peace and security for Europe and for our country, now and in the future“.

In his response, the German foreign minister makes the following points:

1) Germany is working with France to strengthen European security.

”Macron was right to put a strong and sovereign Europe at the heart of his considerations. In the future, we Europeans will have to assume far greater responsibility for our security. We are therefore working at full speed with France on a Europe that cooperates far more closely on security policy.”

2) The goal is a strong Europe in a strong Nato — decoupling the transatlantic alliance would be a mistake.

„In Germany’s opinion, it would clearly be a mistake to undermine NATO. Without the United States, neither Germany nor Europe are in a position to protect themselves effectively. That was recently illustrated very clearly by the Russian violation of the INF Treaty. It would be irresponsible to pursue a foreign and security policy without Washington, and dangerous to decouple European security from American security. We will need NATO for many years to come. It represents burden sharing, it stands for international cooperation and multilateralism. And when Europe is one day able to defend its own security, we should still want NATO. We do want a strong and sovereign Europe. But we need it as part of a strong NATO, and not as a substitute.“

3) The views and interests of Central Europeans must be taken into account.

„we must not divide the Europeans on security matters. Germany will not tolerate any special arrangements, not vis-à-vis Moscow and not on any other matters. Our neighbours in Poland and the Baltic can trust us to take their security needs as seriously as we take our own. The Europe that we need cannot successfully take shape if they are not consulted. On the contrary, our eastern neighbours would then seek to ensure their future by enhancing their bilateral relations with Washington. So yes, a strong and sovereign Europe is a project that Germany and France are committed to. However, it is a project on which nobody may be left behind.“

4) Germany must integrate diverse European interests and views — and it must lead.

„In these dramatic times, we have to steer a firm course towards a strong Europe – not to supersede the transatlantic alliance, but as a motor to revitalise it. Not just as a Franco-German project, but as a community project involving all the Europeans. Only in this manner will there genuinely be security for Europe.”

”As a country at the centre of Europe, Germany must play a central, mediatory and balanced role – within Europe and vis-à-vis the United States. If we do not assume this leadership role, nobody will. Serving as a voice of reason here is our prime responsibility in the field of foreign and security policy today.”

My take:

1) Maas speaks for Germany.

While Heiko Maas is from SPD, the center-left coalition partner, this response represents the German view, the German consensus.

Berlin’s response to Macron’s remarks about Nato has been negative. At the moment when Germany celebrated the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, with Nato Secretary Stoltenberg and U.S. defense minister Pompeo in town, the response from Berlin has been: Nato is not (brain) dead, it is alive and kicking.

In an unusually strong rebuke, chancellor Merkel said that Nato is the "cornerstone of security" for Germany.

This is, despite some difference of emphasis, the consensus view among the very large center in Germany. It was the current German president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, like Maas from SPD, who said in 2013, at the start of his second tenure as foreign minister, that “the transatlantic alliance is and remains the backbone of our security”.

2) Maas reassures Central Europeans over Germany’s position towards Russia.

The German foreign minister is reassuring Germany’s close partners in Central Europe that Berlin does not sign up to Macron’s Eastern agenda — that Germany shares their concerns about Russia and won’t cut, together with France, a grand bargain with Moscow over their heads.

This also sends a message to Moscow: Germany is not a (silent) partner in Macron’s attempts to build a path of rapprochement with Russia (which Macron said he is pursuing together with Orban, saying that the Hungarian prime minister “is quite close to our views”).

3) Maas clarifies Germany’s position on transatlantic security: we want Nato to stay.

Maas is saying that even if Europe can defend itself one day, Germany and Europe should stick with the transatlantic security alliance. In other words, close security cooperation should not just be a transitory arrangement, it should be permanent: the west is not just Europe’s past, it is also Europe’s future.

That’s also a message to the US: please continue to feel welcome in Germany, we want you as a partner — despite the current troubles.

4) Maas wants a leading role for Germany in Europe.

While Germany appears in Macron’s Economist interview rather as a marginal player, Maas lays out an ambitious agenda for Berlin. It must assume “leadership”: an inclusive leadership, bringing the diverging views and interest together in a joint strategy. The goal of this strategy can be described as “a stronger Europe in a stronger transatlantic relationship”.

5) Bottom line: A disruptive Macron vs a German in favor of an (improved) status quo.

While his Economist interview remains vague on many points, Macron can be described as a disrupter. His key point is that Nato is at least currently useless in dealing with problems in the Southern Mediterranean, namely Syria, which is why he describes Nato as “brain dead”.

At the same time, Macron does not think that the task that Nato is actually fulfilling, deterring Russia, is necessary, as he is convinced that the trouble with Russia is only the result of a big misunderstanding that can be overcome — and not of diverging interests and ambitions.

Macron also thinks that the US presence in Europe is weakening, and he doesn’t seem to be be overly concerned about it, saying that Europe can defend itself.

Germany, at least the political center, disagrees with all this. For Germany, Nato’s role is territorial defense, and while there are problems, the alliance is alive and kicking in pursuing this task. Deterring Russia is necessary, as Russia is threatening its neighbors, and it can only be done together with the Americans. Security in the South is not for Nato but for alliances of the willing, perhaps under a European umbrella.

With his op-ed, German foreign minister Maas has introduced the German position into the debate that Macron has started. The great debate over Europe’s strategy has begun.