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Macron, Europe, NATO, and Maybe Us?

Macron, Europe, NATO, and Maybe Us?


Brain Dead or Not, What’s its value to America?

Emmanuel Macron’s views, as voiced in an interview with the Economist,  suggest that America needs to clarify what America is.  Americans will note Macron’s reference to the “brain death of NATO,” but the issue runs deeper than that one alliance.  Unaddressed, the sentiment Macron voices could raise a challenge to America’s deepest interest.

Macron does not focus on NATO per se; he says President Trump’s stance really tells Europe to “’Wake up!’”  To what?  That the European Union, if it does not think of itself as a global power, “will disappear geopolitically, or at least … will no longer be in control of our destiny.” 

What, at bottom, is the purpose of “Europe?”  Macron talks about strategic thinking, but strategy starts with the strategist’s basic goals.  Presumably he sees democracy and human rights as central values.  But is the European Union primarily a voice for rights?  Or could it be a geopolitical entity out to gain and keep worldly power?  Perhaps it’s an economic entity dedicated to prosperity, with rule of law and democracy as fortuitous knock-on benefits?  The question arises in particular because of Macron’s call for “’rapprochement’” with Russia.  Again, to what end?

This questions matter to America because, if Macron’s sentiments take root, Europe could evolve into a major pole of independent geopolitical power.  What kind of power would it be?  The answer will bear on our ability to live by our own nature and secure our own deepest interest.  

That nature and that deepest interest still get short shrift in our own discourse.  But even when we don’t pay attention, they are baked into America’s founding.  The Declaration of Independence established a “people,” separate from prior ties, identified by our holding of self evident truths on unalienable personal rights and government tasked to secure those rights.  We won’t shake that commitment, at least not without renouncing the terms of our national existence.

Right now, a core of nations exists, for whom the primacy of individual rights defines their basic political ethos.  Most of those nations, and relatively few others, are members of either NATO or other fundamental treaties with the United States.  Many are European, though right now NATO does not particularly focus on rights, partially because it includes Turkey, Hungary, and other nations backsliding from liberalism.  But the free nations form a natural core of allies who validate our foundation in rights, and form a base of support for the “interest” in liberty that lies at America’s core.  Will Europe stay in that base?

If Europe decides, from its various traditions, that “security” or “identity” or “economic growth” defines their core purpose, then Europe  starts to look like the Chinas and the Russias of the world.   Some powers, perhaps Europe but not necessarily, may care about democracy.  But any and all might hold it as second priority, or third or lower, with “sovereignty” or “order” or “peace” or “’our’ nation” first or second before it.  Today’s natural core of support will have disappeared, and America will have only realpolitik by which to choose our foreign relationships.  Any ability to embody the Declaration’s tenets will be diminished. 

America needs to cement our ties, at the deepest level with those who live in deep systemic commitment to rights and liberty.  To be clear, while the Trump administration has made noises disruptive to current alliances, our observance of our existential purpose has been shuffled for decades, ever deeper under politicians’ priorities.  As Walter Russell Mead suggests, Macron or any European might wonder how committed we are to NATO, going forward and in the recent past.  We need to focus on the tenets of the Declaration’s creed now, before the world makes embodying them even harder. 

This simple impulse could entail complex, protracted diplomatic and institutional moves.  We might initiate separate understandings among, say, NATO nations minus Turkey and Hungary plus Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan, Sweden and Finland.  We should find ways to grow closer to nations like Brazil, Indonesia, Ghana, and South Africa, who are working to strengthen their democratic systems, and further, perhaps, from the Philippines or Turkey if they continue to deteriorate in theirs.  Specific policies and moves cannot be prescribed right now.  But we need to start viewing our alliances and relations in light of America’s founding tenets.

President Macron is America’s ally, regardless of any personal or political stances toward any given American.  But his interview shows we cannot take for granted that even the most freedom loving nations will automatically remain our friends.  We need to clarify who we are, so when others choose their friends the free nations will stay close with us, for freedom’s sake.



George Paik

George F. Paik is a former political affairs officer in the U.S. Foreign Service, as well as a twenty year veteran of U.S. capital markets. He is a current board member and former chair of the World Affairs Forum (a sister to FPA in the World Affairs Councils of America network) in Stamford, CT. His work as a diplomat straddled the fall of the USSR, and included political analysis, human rights, trade affairs, and environmental policy, in postings were in Brazil and Trinidad, and in the Department of State. Financial experience includes stints with Mellon Bank, Manufacturers Hanover Trust Co. and People’s United Bank. He currently holds the position of Managing Director at Lord Capital, LLC, a firm focused on international trade finance.

Paik graduated from Harvard University with a BA in Social Studies; he also holds an MBA in Finance from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He counts ten years playing Rugby, with club mates from countries around the globe, as part of his international experience.