NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg dismissed calls by French President Emmanuel Macron to put France’s nuclear deterrence at the center of European defense strategy, saying the United States and Britain already provide an effective security umbrella.
“We have to remember that we have a European nuclear deterrent today — 28 allies deliver that every day and it’s not only a promise, but it’s something that has been there for decades,” Stoltenberg told reporters at the Munich Security Conference on February 15.
“It’s tried and tested, we exercise it, and it’s institutionalized, and it is the ultimate security guarantee for Europe,” said Stoltenberg, who also called France a “highly valued ally” whose nuclear capabilities contributed to NATO’s overall security.
Macron has been pushing for an overhaul of European Union security and defense matters in response to Brexit — Britain’s departure from the bloc.
Following Brexit, France is the only EU nation with a nuclear arsenal, and Macron has pressed for European “strategic autonomy” — the ability to defend the continent without relying on Washington, although he has stated his commitment to NATO.
In a key speech last week, Macron called for dialogue among EU countries about what role the French nuclear deterrent could play as he called for a “surge” in European defense spending.
France is a NATO member but does not make its atomic weapons available to the alliance. It has long prided itself on its independent nuclear deterrent.
Germany has particularly opposed an increased reliance on France’s stockpile as a deterrence, seeing the U.S. nuclear umbrella as a key to its security.
“The issue is not for Europeans to know whether they must defend themselves with or without Washington,” Macron said during his February 7 speech. “But our security derives also, inevitably, from a greater capacity by Europeans to act autonomously.”
“To build the Europe of tomorrow, our norms can’t be under American control. Our infrastructure, our ports and airports can’t be controlled by Chinese capital, neither can our digital networks be under Russian pressure,” he said.
At the Munich event, Macron reiterated those sentiments, saying, “We need a European strategy that renews us and turns us into a strategic political power.”