NATO allies clash after Macron says alliance experiencing ‘brain death’

French President Emmanuel Macron addresses a press conference on the second day of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in Brussels, Belgium. (Reuters)
Updated 08 November 2019

NATO allies clash after Macron says alliance experiencing ‘brain death’

  • Macron decried a lack of coordination between Europe and the US and lamented recent unilateral action in Syria by Turkey, a key member of NATO
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel defended the 70-year-old military alliance as ‘indispensible’ and said Macron’s ‘sweeping judgments’ were not ‘necessary’

PARIS: NATO partners argued Thursday over the alliance’s worth after French President Emmanuel Macron said it was undergoing “brain death,” prompting a fierce defense of the bloc from Germany and the US while drawing praise from non-member Russia.
“What we are currently experiencing is the brain death of NATO,” Macron told The Economist magazine in an interview published Thursday, ahead of a NATO summit next month.
But German Chancellor Angela Merkel defended the 70-year-old military alliance as “indispensible” and said Macron’s “sweeping judgments” were not “necessary.”
Addressing journalists by Merkel’s side, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg warned that a weakened transatlantic alliance could “divide Europe,” while the US Secretary of State, also in Germany, insisted NATO was “important, critical.”
In the interview, Macron decried a lack of coordination between Europe and the US and lamented recent unilateral action in Syria by Turkey, a key member of the 70-year-old military alliance.
“You have no coordination whatsoever of strategic decision-making between the United States and its NATO allies. None,” he said.
“You have an uncoordinated aggressive action by another NATO ally, Turkey, in an area where our interests are at stake,” Macron added according to an English transcript released by The Economist.
After talks with Stoltenberg in Berlin, Merkel said Macron “used drastic words, that is not my view of cooperation in NATO.”
She added: “I don’t think that such sweeping judgments are necessary, even if we have problems and need to pull together,” while insisting that “the transatlantic partnership is indispensible for us.”
Stoltenberg said any attempt to distance Europe from North America “risks not only to weaken the Alliance, the transatlantic bond, but also to divide Europe.”
In a recent setback for the alliance, a Turkish military operation against Kurdish forces in northern Syria was staunchly opposed by fellow members like France, but made possible by a withdrawal of US forces ordered by President Donald Trump.
For Macron, “strategically and politically, we need to recognize that we have a problem.”
“We should reassess the reality of what NATO is in light of the commitment of the United States,” he warned, adding that: “In my opinion, Europe has the capacity to defend itself.”
Stoltenberg said he welcomed efforts to strengthen European defense, “but European unity cannot replace transatlantic unity. We need to stand together.”
Pompeo, on a visit to the German city of Leipzig as part of anniversary events for the fall of the Berlin Wall 30 years ago, agreed.
“I think NATO remains an important, critical, perhaps historically one of the most critical strategic partnerships in all of recorded history,” he told journalists.
Macron said it was crucial to seek rapprochement with Moscow, which regards NATO and its expansion into ex-Communist bloc states with huge suspicion given that the alliance was set up to counter the USSR.
“We need to reopen a strategic dialogue, without being naive and which will take time, with Russia,” said Macron, who wants to broker an end to the conflict in Ukraine and has courted President Vladimir Putin as a partner.
He said NATO did not reexamine its role after the collapse of the Soviet Union and “the unarticulated assumption is that the enemy is still Russia.”
And for all the anti-Western bombast from the Kremlin, Putin would find his long-term strategic options limited to “a partnership project with Europe,” the president said.
“If we want to build peace in Europe, to rebuild European strategic autonomy, we need to reconsider our position with Russia,” he insisted.
From Moscow, foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova hailed Macron’s “brain death” observation as “golden words... a precise definition of the current state of NATO.”
The French president, seen by many analysts as Europe’s most prominent leader amid Brexit and Merkel’s looming exit in 2021, has sought to stand tall on the foreign policy stage and to implement a vision of reforming Europe.
But he said the European Union was on “the edge of a precipice.”
“Europe has forgotten that it is a community, by increasingly thinking of itself as a market...,” said Macron, who recently blocked expanding the EU to include North Macedonia and Albania.
He also said he wanted European nations to break a “taboo” against using deficits to stimulate growth and investment.
Macron said the world was in turmoil, with a risk of the US and China becoming the sole global powers, and authoritarian regimes emerging in Europe’s own backyard.
“All this has led to the exceptional fragility of Europe which, if it can’t think of itself as a global power, will disappear, because it will take a hard knock,” he said.


Cambodia to ban elephant rides at Angkor temples

Updated 15 November 2019

Cambodia to ban elephant rides at Angkor temples

  • The Angkor archaeological complex in northern Siem Reap attracts the bulk of the kingdom’s tourists
  • Apsara authority plans to end the elephant rides by 2020
PHNOM PENH: Cambodia will ban all elephant rides at the country’s famed Angkor temple park by early next year, an official said Friday, a rare win for conservationists who have long decried the popular practice as cruel.
The Angkor archaeological complex in northern Siem Reap attracts the bulk of the kingdom’s foreign tourists — which topped six million in 2018 — and many opt for elephants rides around the ancient temples.
But these rides “will end by the start of 2020,” said Long Kosal, a spokesman with the Apsara Authority, which manages the park.
“Using elephants for business is not appropriate anymore,” he told AFP, adding that some of the animals were “already old.”
So far, five of the 14 working elephants have been transferred to a community forest about 40 kilometers (25 miles) away from the temples.
“They will live out their natural lives there,” Kosal said.
The company that owns the elephants will continue to look after them, he added.
Cambodia has long come under fire from animal rights groups for ubiquitous elephant rides on offer for tourists, also seen in neighboring Thailand, Vietnam and Laos.
The elephants are broken in during training and rights groups have accused handlers of overworking them.
In 2016, a female elephant died by the roadside after carrying tourists around the Angkor Wat temple complex in severely hot weather.
The animal had been working for around 45 minutes before she collapsed.