Is NATO’s ‘collective defense’ still solid? Macron’s words raise doubts

French President Emmanuel Macron cites a lack of strategic coordination between the US and other member states of NATO. (AP)
Updated 09 November 2019

Is NATO’s ‘collective defense’ still solid? Macron’s words raise doubts

  • Relations between European NATO members and the US have been soured recently by America’s decision to withdraw troops from northeastern Syria without consulting or warning other members

JEDDAH: In an interview published on Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron told The Economist that NATO is suffering “brain death.” He cited a lack of strategic coordination between the US and other member states, and Turkey’s “uncoordinated aggressive action” in Syria as two of the symptoms.
Turkey’s actions in particular, he said, raised questions about the “collective defense” agreement stipulated in article five of NATO’s founding treaty, under which an attack on one member is viewed as an attack on all members. What would happen, he asked, if the Bashar Assad regime decided to retaliate against Turkey over its incursion into Syria? “Will we commit ourselves under it (Article 5)? It is a crucial question,” he said. The article has only been invoked once before, in response to the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.
During Turkey’s fortnight-long incursion into northern Syria, Macron called on Ankara to cease its attacks immediately and criticized NATO’s failure to respond to what he called Turkey’s “crazy” offensive. France also suspended arms sales to Turkey.
Questioning NATO’s commitment to the protection of a member state demonstrates how disapproval against Ankara has grown, with some prominent members of the alliance already turning their backs on Turkey. Turkey has the second-largest standing military force in NATO, after the US, and has been a member of the alliance since 1952.
But statements such as Macron’s may push Ankara to reassess its defense needs in regards to growing regional security threats, and to procure alternative mechanisms — such as the Russian-made S-400 air defense system, so that it is not relying solely on one side.
Relations between European NATO members and the US have been soured recently by America’s decision to withdraw troops from northeastern Syria without consulting or warning other members. US President Donald Trump’s threat to “moderate” the US’ economic commitment to NATO —  which accounts for around 70 percent of the alliance’s military expenditure — if members failed to honor their current pledge of spending 2 percent of their GDP on defense has also raised the hackles of some NATO members, and caused some observers to question the solidity of the 70-year-old alliance.
“Macron’s statements are not to be taken too literally,” Sinan Ulgen, chairman of the Istanbul-based EDAM think tank and a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, told Arab News. “His goal is to convince European nations to spend more on defense and to build up European capabilities. The alarmism about NATO is designed to emphasize this message.”
Ulgen also noted that establishing a European defense structure able to replace NATO may not be a realistic goal, especially given the likelihood of the UK’s exit from the European Union. However, the former diplomat added that he does not believe Turkey has a realistic alternative to NATO as an ally.

HIGHLIGHT

Questioning NATO’s commitment to the protection of a member state shows how disapproval against Ankara has grown.

“For Turkey, bilateral ties with the US will matter more in terms of how Ankara evaluates the future contributions of NATO to Turkey’s national security,” he said.
Macron’s comments prompted reaction from NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who emphasized the critical importance of NATO as a strategic partnership, while stressing that it needed to “grow and change” or risk becoming “ineffective or obsolete.”
Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara office director of the German Marshall Fund of the US, a think tank, believes there is no question that NATO has the means and the will to provide security guarantees to all member states.
“What we are seeing today is the result of years of complacency and different perspectives on the nature of the threats member states are facing,” he told Arab News. “Despite multiple tensions between different members of NATO, the transatlantic alliance is still the central pillar of Turkey’s security strategy and this is not about to change any time soon.”
However, Unluhisarcikli suggested, Turkey does not see NATO membership and ties to the alliance’s adversaries such as Russia to be mutually exclusive, which is the underlying reason behind the current issues Turkey has with other NATO members.
Not all members, though. For Luxembourg, at least, Turkey would certainly be able to invoke article five if its troops were attacked by the Syrian regime’s forces.
“In that case, NATO would have to step in to assist Turkey,” Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn told German radio station Bayerischer Rundfunk on Oct. 14, adding that that assistance would not necessarily be military in nature as the alliance would look to “restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.”


Cirque du Soleil walks a tightrope through pandemic

Updated 06 June 2020

Cirque du Soleil walks a tightrope through pandemic

  • Suitors wage backstage battle to rescue debt-stricken Canadian circus icon
  • Among the potential bidders is former fire eater Guy Laliberte, who fouded the acrobatic troupe in 1984

MONTREAL: Its shows canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an already heavily indebted Cirque du Soleil’s fight for survival has invited an intense backstage battle to try to save the Canadian cultural icon.

High on a list of potential suitors is former fire eater Guy Laliberte, who founded the acrobatic troupe in 1984 but later sold it.

“Its revival will have to be done at the right price. And not at all costs,” said the 60-year-old, determined not to see his creation sold to private interests.

The billionaire clown said after “careful consideration,” he decided “with a great team” to pursue a bid, but offered no details.

Under his leadership, the Cirque had set up big tops in more than 300 cities around the world, delighting audiences with contemporary circus acts set to music but without the usual trappings of lions, elephants and bears.

Then the pandemic hit, forcing the company in March to cancel 44 shows worldwide, from Las Vegas to Tel Aviv, Moscow to Melbourne, and lay off 4,679 acrobats and technicians, or 95 percent of its workforce.

Hurtling toward bankruptcy, the global entertainment giant and pride of Canada commissioned a bank in early May to examine its options, including a possible sale.

Meanwhile, shareholders ponied up $50 million in bridge financing for its “short-term liquidity needs.”

Laliberte, the first clown to rocket to the International Space Station in 2009, ceded control of the Cirque for $1 billion in 2015.

It has since fallen into the hands of American investment firm TPG Capital (55 percent stake) and China’s Fosun (25 percent), which also owns Club Med and Thomas Cook travel. The Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec (CDPQ) retains the last 20 percent.

The institutional investor, which manages public pension plans and insurance programs in Quebec, bought Laliberte’s last remaining 10 percent stake in the business in February, just before the pandemic.

Since 2015, the Cirque has embarked on costly acquisitions and renovations of permanent performance halls, while its creative spirit waned, according to critics in the Quebec press.

Meanwhile, it piled on more than $1 billion in debt.

Fearing that the Cirque would be “sold to foreign interests,” the Quebec government recently offered it a conditional loan of $200 million to help relaunch its shows as restrictions on large gatherings start to be eased worldwide.

But the agreement in principle is conditional on the Cirque headquarters remaining in Montreal and the province being allowed to buy US and Chinese stakes in the company at an unspecified time in the future, “at market value” and with “probably a local partner,” said Quebec Minister of the Economy Pierre Fitzgibbon.

“The state does not want to operate the circus, but the circus is too important to Quebec (to leave it to foreigners),” he said.

In addition to Laliberte, other prospective buyers include Quebecor, the telecoms and media giant of tycoon Pierre Karl Peladeau, whose opening lowball bid was outright rejected.

“It is essentially the value and reputation of the brand” that has piqued interest in the company, says Michel Magnan, corporate governance chair at Concordia University in Montreal.

But “as long as there are restrictions on gatherings of people, the future is not very rosy” for the Cirque, he said.

Several challenges await, according to Magnan.

“There were a lot of people working in all of these shows. Where are they now? What are they doing? How are they doing? In what shape are they, what state of mind?” he said.

“The more time passes, the more this expertise risks evaporating.”

Small consolation: The Cirque resumed its performances on Wednesday in Hangzhou, China, five months after a coronavirus outbreak in the city.