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French President Emmanuel Macron gestures during a joint news conference with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, on Nov. 28, 2019.

Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images

NATO leaders must stop bickering over defence spending and have a deep discussion about the future of the military alliance and how ties with Russia can be improved at a summit, French President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday.

Mr. Macron’s call for intensive talks on how to shore up security in Europe, cope with volatile member Turkey and restore U.S. leadership came as NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Washington will pay less into the alliance’s budget from next year, with Germany filling the spending gap.

Ahead of a summit of NATO leaders in London next week, Mr. Macron held discussions with Mr. Stoltenberg in Paris.

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At a joint news conference, Mr. Macron posed a series of questions about NATO, an organization that he termed as “brain dead” just a few weeks ago, a charge that was criticized by others within the alliance.

“NATO is an organization of collective defence. Against what, against who is it defending itself? Who is our common enemy? What are our common topics? This question deserves clarifications.”

Mr. Macron said he was glad his recent comments have acted as a “wake-up call” and that it was “irresponsible” to just talk about financial and technical matters.

“A real alliance is action, decisions, not words. So, I want us to have a real dialogue among allies,” he insisted.

Mr. Macron complained that NATO’s two previous summits have focused almost exclusively on defence spending and “how to alleviate the financial cost for the United States.”

At the Dec. 3-4 summit in London, U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to repeat his demand that European countries and Canada increase their defence spending. The U.S. spends more on defence than all other 28 allies combined.

In an announcement Thursday, Mr. Stoltenberg said the allies have agreed to reformulate NATO’s relatively small in-house budget and that Washington would now pay less.

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NATO allies agreed last year to a 2019 civil budget for running things such as the organization’s headquarters of $250.5-million. A further $1.4-billion was earmarked for spending on military missions around the world.

But Mr. Stoltenberg said Thursday that a new cost-sharing formula has been agreed and that “the U.S. will pay less, Germany will pay more.”

Washington was previously the biggest contributor, paying about 22 per cent. Mr. Stoltenberg said the U.S. and Germany will now both pay “roughly 16 per cent.”

The move does not concern the national-defence budgets that Mr. Trump routinely complains about but could help to mollify him. It came a day after NATO announced a US$1-billion contract to refurbish its aging fleet of surveillance planes made by U.S. aircraft manufacturer Boeing.

Mr. Macron said France won’t increase its contributions for NATO’s in-house budget and referred to the 13 French soldiers killed in a helicopter collision as they were fighting Islamic State group-linked extremists in Mali.

“If anyone wants to see what they call cost sharing, they can dome to the ceremony that France is organizing on Monday,” he said. “They will see the price.”

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Mr. Macron said NATO really needs to focus on what it’s about, to resolve a series of questions, such as how to maintain peace in Europe, relations with Russia, the role of Turkey in NATO and who the alliance’s enemies might be.

He called for a return to dialogue with Russia that is “lucid, robust and demanding” in order to enhance confidence and security on the continent. NATO’s relations with Russia have arguably been at their frostiest since the end of the Cold War as a result Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

Mr. Macron added that the alliance needs to focus on the common enemy, which he said is neither Russia nor China, but extremist groups.

Despite the infighting, Mr. Stoltenberg played down the divisions and insisted that NATO was as relevant as it has ever been.

“In uncertain times we need strong multinational institutions like NATO,” he said.

“The paradox is that while questions are being asked about the strength of the trans-Atlantic bond, North America and Europe are doing more together than they have done for decades.”

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Mr. Macron also lamented the collapse of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which the U.S. abandoned after insisting that Russia was violating the pact. The INF was a Cold War-era bilateral agreement between Washington and Moscow.

“To say that a treaty is over without having anything else in place,” he said. “Let’s be serious. We’re talking about Europe’s security.”

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