President Emmanuel Macron of France laid out a bold vision for Europe during the Munich Security Conference (MSC) last month. “We need a European strategy that allows us to present ourselves as a strategic power. The Europe I have in mind is a Europe that is sovereign, united, and democratic,” he said. Macron has increasingly invoked this vision as an answer to the prevailing perception in Europe that the United States is beginning to withdraw from the international stage, leaving a void that is slowly being filled by China and Russia.
In the Declaration that emerged from the December 2019 London Leaders Meeting, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was tasked to present Foreign Ministers with “a forward-looking reflection process under his auspices, drawing on relevant expertise, to further strengthen NATO’s political dimension including consultation”.1 This new tasking has been largely attributed to French President Emmanuel Macron’s remark the previous month that the Alliance was suffering from “brain death”.2 Speaking at a press conference alongside Stoltenberg, Macron elaborated on his comment, complaining the Alliance was overly focused on “cost-sharing or burden-sharing” whereas too little attention was being placed on major policy issues such as “peace in Europe, the post-INF, the relationship with Russia, the issue of Turkey, who is the enemy?”3
Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), launched by the EU in December 2017, has grown quickly. Yet, its role in developing European defence capacity may turn out to be marginal if a compromise is not found on the issue of the participation of non-EU states in PESCO projects and on the size of the European Defence Fund (EDF). PESCO’s importance may be diminished by advances by big, European defence initiatives led outside the EU’s legal framework.
The credibility of any alliance depends on its ability to deliver deterrence and defence for the safety and security of its members. Without capability, any alliance is deprived of credibility and exists only on paper. Despite a rocky history – up to and including the current debate on burden-sharing – capability lies at the heart of NATO’s success. There is good cause to draw optimism from the Alliance’s accomplishments throughout its 70 years in providing a framework for developing effective and interoperable capabilities.