(Bloomberg) -- U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said NATO risks becoming irrelevant, adding fuel to criticism of the military alliance as grandees gathered in the German capital to mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
A day after Emmanuel Macron slammed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, President Donald Trump’s top envoy said the alliance would lose significance if its 29 members don’t contribute enough to common defense.
“If nations believe they can get the security benefit without providing NATO with the resources that it needs, if they don’t live up to their commitments, there’s a risk that NATO could become ineffective or obsolete,” Pompeo told the audience at a forum next to the Brandenburg Gate.
Macron drew fire from key allies, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, for saying that NATO is suffering “brain death.” While the French leader has sought to advance Europe’s own military capabilities and independent foreign policy, Pompeo’s comments echoed Trump’s blunt criticism that NATO members aren’t contributing enough.
Germany has been a specific target of Trump’s charge that the country must meet an obligation to raise defense spending to 2% of gross domestic product. While Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said she aims to meet that target by 2031, the chancellor’s Social Democratic coalition partners oppose an increase on that scale.
‘So Many Cameras’
The U.S. secretary of state, who had just given a speech heralding German-U.S. ties three decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, hesitated when asked by a moderator whether NATO is “obsolete, brain dead, or both, or neither.”
“So many good answers, so many cameras,” he quipped.
As NATO leaders prepare to gather for a summit in London next month to coincide with the 70th anniversary of its founding, Pompeo said that the Brussels-based institution’s staying power can’t be taken for granted.
“We can never assume that because this infrastructure, this beautiful building that’s in Brussels, that it will exist, that it will of its own force, just by the nature of it, that it will continue to be relevant and important and effective,” Pompeo said.
The comments were softer than those of Macron, who appeared to call for a wholesale alteration in Europe’s security architecture -- a stance that calls into question NATO’s future role. Taking on Trump’s lack of commitment, Macron said the uncertainty placed the alliance’s key collective defense clause in question. “What will Article Five mean tomorrow?,” he asked in an interview with The Economist.
The comments drew a rare rebuke from Merkel, who referred to the French president’s “drastic words.”
“This is not my view of cooperation within NATO,” Merkel said Thursday alongside NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Pompeo was scheduled to meet with Merkel later on Friday.
Stoltenberg acknowledged earlier Friday that there are differences on some issues within NATO -- such as over Syria -- but said that the alliance remains solid and the U.S. and Europe are united.
“What I know is that NATO is strong and North America and Europe are doing more together now than they have done for many, many years,” Stoltenberg said in an interview with Germany’s Deutschlandfunk radio.
“The reality is that NATO has not expanded its collective defense capacity so much in decades,” he added. “We do that together, North America and Europe.”
Stoltenberg also said that Russia should not become isolated and NATO should work to improve relations with Moscow.
Russia signaled its pleasure at developments. President Vladimir Putin is impressed by Macron’s approach to relations, which is “much more thoughtful” than the “Russophobic apocalyptic scenarios” heard from many experts, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Friday on a conference call.
As for NATO’s health, “it’s not for us to decide whether NATO is alive or dead, or which parts of the body of this alliance are in a comatose state,” Peskov said. “We are not pathologists.”
Pompeo said standing up to authoritarian regimes like China and Russia and “protecting freedom” is a tough task that needs greater joint effort from NATO allies. He attacked China for methods he said “would be horrifyingly familiar to former East Germans” and Russia for “invading its neighbors and slaying political opponents.”
“We must recognize that free nations are in a competition of values with unfree nations,” Pompeo said. “It’s our duty to decide the terms on which our people live.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Patrick Donahue in Berlin at firstname.lastname@example.org;Iain Rogers in Berlin at email@example.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chad Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org, Chris Reiter
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