C4E: France’s Macron calls NATO brain dead4 min read

A Communicate For Effect (C4E) post is an analysis using public information on how leaders and organizations achieve, or intend to achieve, effects through communication activities. 

In an interview with the Economist dated November 7, 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron said the NATO Alliance had suffered “brain death,” said the Alliance could no longer coordinate strategically, questioned what Article 5 would mean if Syria decided to retaliate against Turkey, and criticized U.S President Trump’s withdrawal from Syria and unilateral diplomacy stating it undermines the NATO Alliance.

The comments have been widely covered in mass media drawing rebuke from European leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Macron is not the first leader to criticize NATO, nor will he be the last. Assuming the talking points provided by Macron for this interview were prepared ahead of time, then this was a deliberate attempt to achieve a specific political effect through communication.

Strategic Context

Presumably, his remarks are intended to serve as a shaping operation domestically and for the upcoming NATO Summit in London this December. The Summit marks NATO’s 70th Anniversary of its formation after WWII with U.S. President Trump expected to attend per a CNN report. It’s unknown whether Turkish President Erdoğan will attend.

Macron holds the view that the European Union should invest in a “true European Army”  to address China, Russia, and even U.S. influence. The EU already has land forces such as the Eurocorps, I German/Netherland Corps, and Multinational Corps NE, in addition to similar air and naval forces, that exist through the participation of EU member states. These forces can deploy in support of NATO, EU or UN missions pending political approval of those nations.

From the Guardian, Macron said, “Look at what is happening in the world. Things that were unthinkable five years ago – to be wearing ourselves out over Brexit, to have Europe finding it so difficult to move forward, to have an American ally turning its back on us so quickly on strategic issues – nobody would have believed this possible.”

With his recent criticism of NATO’s failure to respond to the offensive operations in Syria by Turkey, a NATO member, and continued criticism of President Trump and continued U.S. influence, Macron may be looking to set the stage to reduce defense spending for NATO and boost defense co-operation among European countries.


In 2018, France increased its defense spending for the first time in a decade. This increase came at a time when U.S. President Trump was pressuring NATO member nations to increase funding, but also a time when the French public was increasingly supportive of the increase as it was fighting terrorism domestically and abroad. Given the recent increase in defense spending, one assumes that the spending will remain relatively constant.

The political objective would be: increase military spending for an EU-specific force.

This objective would likely result in decreased funding for NATO. Macron probably sees this as a better use of his nation’s funds given the political disagreements with both the U.S. and Turkey.

Target Audience

Given the assumptions stated above, the intended target audiences are:

– EU Key Leaders
– French Domestic Audience

– NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg
– US Key Leaders
– Turkish Key Leaders

Desired Effect

The desired effect relates to each target audience. He wants key EU leaders to be supportive of the EU-specific force and take action both financially and militarily. This is also intended to build support domestically for an EU-specific force by a French population that is likely very receptive, given the unpopular view of Trump, Brexit and Turkish actions in Syria.

He is less likely to achieve effects for these secondary audiences. The NATO Secretary-General may be able to help shape the agenda and topics of the upcoming NATO Summit, but the current US and Turkey key leaders have historically shown that they are unlikely to change direction.

Looking Ahead

A single interview with talking points such as these would indicate Macron is testing the reaction by his domestic audience and EU nations. Depending upon the reaction from the primary audiences, he may continue this campaign to see if he can achieve effects prior to the December Summit or let the topic de-escalate and then re-engage at a later date when he is more likely to gain momentum.

Photo of French Pres. Emmanuel Macron available here under Creative Commons license.