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November 29, 2019

Macron is doubling down on his Nato stance

Next week’s Nato summit in London promises to become a moment of truth not only for Nato itself, but especially for its European members. In particular, it will be a first test of Emmanuel Macron’s new strong-arm diplomacy. 

Macron reiterated yesterday that he is ready to engage with Vladimir Putin over his proposal for a moratorium of land-based medium-range nuclear missiles. He is the only Nato leader who is. He said so standing next to Jens Stoltenberg, the Nato secretary general, who was in Paris yesterday. Macron has written a letter to Putin - not co-ordinated with other Nato members - in which he offered to engage in talks. He did send a copy of the letter to other Nato leaders, but only after the fact. The German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, said he fears the proposal would add to Europe’s divisions and would lead to a decoupling of European and US security interests.

FAZ writes that the Europeans are sceptical of Putin’s offer because Nato believes that Russia has 64 undeclared cruise missile of the SSC-8 type, which could be armed with nuclear weapons. If Nato were to agree to a moratorium, the effect would be to give Russia an unfair advantage while stopping Nato countries from countering the threat.

For us, the bigger issue is whether Macron’s new diplomatic style can succeed. Probably not directly, but we think this is part of a broader diplomatic effort to shift the balance of views within the EU. What is not understood in Germany is that his diplomacy is also in part a consequence of Germany’s effective rebuttal of his EU reform plans. He does not owe anything to Angela Merkel. He is now extending the scope of his disruption from France to both of the EU and Nato at the same time. His big problem is a lack of allies, but on foreign policy and security his position is powerful. He has a veto on EU enlargement, and after Brexit France will be the only remaining nuclear power in the EU. Normally it is not a wise course of action in the EU to pursue goals in isolation. This might be different - if it is part of broader strategy.

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November 29, 2019

France accuses Europeans of free riding in the Sahel

The French lost 13 soldiers in a combat mission against the Islamic State in the Sahel region, the biggest loss of life of French troops since 1983. France has complained to European allies that it is bearing the brunt of a counter-terrorism operation that benefits all of Europe. They are seeking European engagement in the area beyond logistical support, arguing that this region could well turn into a safe heaven for terrorists and thus a problem for everyone. Emanuel Macron no longer minces his words, as when he said yesterday: 

"If people want to understand what they call 'cost-sharing', they can come on Monday to the ceremonies France is organising for the dead soldiers. There they will see the price."

This is clearly directed at Germany and adds an emotional component to the divisions between the two countries over Nato. 

As the former colonial power, France is the only Western country with a significant military presence in Mali and the wider Sahel region south of the Sahara desert. But despite French troops, 15,000 UN peacekeepers in Mali, and thousands of pan-regional forces, Islamist militants have strengthened their foothold across the arid region. Since France launched its military action in 2013, thirty-eight French soldiers have been killed. The peace accord agreed in Mali in 2015 is yet to be implemented. On November 20 France urged its European counterparts to step up their presence in west Africa, already pointing out that if jihadist groups are able to operate from this region they threaten Europe as a whole.

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November 29, 2019

Beware of the empty chair

When one of us went to journalism school back in the 1980s, we were taugh a cast-iron rule of broadcasting: if someone does not accept your invitation to an interview, do not place an empty chair in the studio. Channel 4 last night replaced an absent Boris Johnson, not with a chair but a melting ice sculpture. The Tories are now threatening to withdraw the station's licence if re-elected.

The nature of journalism has changed since the 1980s, but the empty chair rule remains a good one. This is not because it protects politicians, but because it protects journalists. For starters, if the purpose of the stunt is to damage the Tories it will not do the job. The voters who are sitting on the fence are those torn with doubt - about Brexit, about the consequences of a second referendum, or about Jeremy Corbyn. The ice sculpture will reinforce the view of those who already made up their mind. But it will not melt doubt. It does damage the reputation of journalism and, if Channel 4 loses its licence, it will cost a lot of journalist jobs. 

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