NATO at 70

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NATO at 70

The most successful security intergovernmental organization turned 70 this April. North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) provides security umbrella and protects from conventional and nuclear attacks geopolitical landscape that comprises North America, Western Europe, Baltics and partially Balkans. Out of 29 member states, two are world’s most important economies, three are permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, six belong to G7 and seven members to the G20. Today forty-one states are formal NATO partners, while next in line to join the Alliance might be Georgia, Ukraine and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

As NATO enters its eight decade, we remind of its original purpose: “to keep the Soviet Union out, the Americans in, and the Germans down” as Lord Ismay, the alliance’s first secretary-general, has put it. And so a new postwar order based on the logic of collective security was formed out of wartime collaboration. The rest is history of 7 decades long partnership.

This is not another apocalyptic article about the future of the global affairs and worsening of transatlantic relations. Rather, we are trying to assess the current state of NATO, debunking the myths on transatlantic partnership, outlining accomplishments achieved and the challenges ahead.

Waging challenges and achievements

Backing up everything Donald Trump is against is so easy nowadays. Regardless of the political orientation, it should be acknowledged that when it comes to NATO burden sharing, Mr. President is right. The inability to meet the spending target of 2% GDP is endangering alliance and this shouldn’t be taken for granted.  It is simply that the U.S. is spending 3.5 percent of its GDP while in the alliance of 29 few comply with Wales pledge. However, it seems that overall NATO spending is heading higher and in a more equitable manner: five countries met 2% spending target last year: Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Greece and Estonia. It seems that harsh rhetoric of President Donald Trump on free riding of Europe is starting to pay out: some other countries, like Germany announced that they will be meeting the Wales pledge too.Moreover, 2% of GDP is essentially fair and equitable contribution towards maintaining Article 5s defense commitment. If there wasn’t for NATO, states would have to spend way more for their defense and it is questionable how much they would be able to secure themselves.

The guiding principle of transatlantic relations was cooperative security. In establishing the Alliance, partners contributed with their resources and gave away a piece of their sovereignty, agreeing to consensual decision-making and binding themselves to each other through integrated military. The Atlantic community is not just a military alliance, but also a genuine security community – an international society knit together by a sense of “we-ness, as Charles Kupchan stated.” This security community is nowadays facing one of the greatest challenges, not coming from the outside in form of external threat, but rather from within the Alliance. This is not due to unpredictability of Administration of Donald Trump as mainstream media is suggesting, but due to democratic backsliding of certain member states and their departure from NATO values. Poland, Hungary and Turkey have been drifting away from democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of press and rule of law for quite some time now. These countries have undermined their own democracies in varying degrees and by doing so, they are endangering the reputation of the alliance and its internal cohesion. The additional problem is  the fact that the Alliance doesn’t have mechanisms to cope with those not respecting the values that brought NATO members together in the first place. The Washington Treaty has no provision for coercing members that drift away from common political values, like the European Union Treaty’s Chapter 7 that has been invoked recently toward several EU member states with certain success. This is why the Alliance might need expulsion clause and why Canada was right to insist on including such clause into Washington Treaty during the negotiations, but with no success.

On the other side, it is true that NATO had few failed projects – Bosnia, Libya, Kosovo. In words of Barry Posen, the underlying issue is that none of this countries turned into functional democracy. As much as this may be true, was is really up to NATO to establish liberal democracies in war torn countries? The answer is no. In fact, NATO is still preserving fragile peace in Kosovo two decades after the intervention and so is the case with Bosnia, a country that is still more of an international protectorate than a sovereign country.

Myths and realities

The conventional thinking may suggest that all of the sudden with Trump in office, US started to pressure European partners to “pay up”. But novelty of burden share issue is far from being really new. Trump may be the one who used harsh tone, but the issue of uneven burden started after Korean war with Eisenhower’s “New look policy” aiming to cut defense spending by increasing reliance on nuclear weapons. Afterwards, “Nixon Doctrine” called explicitly for allies to do much more in their own defense. That being said, Trump’s doctrine is actually strengthening NATO by urging partners to address the pressing challenges.

Myth number 2: The alliance is breaking apart and US is to blame. In fact, strategic priorities of America and Europe were slowly starting to diverge after Cold war ended. In the absence of a common external threat, divergences came to the surface and partners started differing on the Middle East policy. But rest assured, the transatlantic partnership is not going anywhere: US supports EU energy security, they are both still on the same page in sanctioning Russia, “European Deterrence Initiative”, main deterrent against Russia is still funded by US, US advocates for enlargement of NATO and what is of utmost importance at the moment, US is alerting EU to dangers of Chinese influence. In case that doesn’t suffice, the most recent Chicago Council survey finds that not only do “a majority of Americans continue to favor maintaining (57%) or increasing (18%) the U.S. commitment to NATO which is the highest level ever recorded in Chicago Council surveys.” Moreover, there are clear policy actions speaking of continued US commitment to NATO such as Senate and House resolutions in 2017 that reaffirmed will of U.S. to stay commitment to credible partner, the introduction of a Senate bill that would prevent the President from leaving NATO without Senate approval, adopted in 2018 and 2019, and House resolution in 2019 that prohibits the appropriation of funds to withdraw the U.S. from NATO.

Looking into future

Nowadays we can repeatedly hear the stories about strategic decoupling of EU and US. According to Kupchan, increasing European readiness will not lead to strategic decoupling but quite the opposite, the more ready they are, the more US will value transatlantic link. This makes complete sense if we take into account that America actually supported the development of ESDP (European Security and Defense Policy), and later CSDP (Common Security and Defense Policy) as a form of fair defense burden sharing.

Even though the Alliance is well known for its open-door policy, it probably wouldn’t be smart to keep this door open forever. According to voices of experts, after the Balkans get to the membership level, NATO should close its open-door policy in order to ease tensions with Russia and thus create credible, sustainable deterrent. What went wrong in NATO’s transformation after the end of Cold war according to Barry Posen, is that NATO took on a new goal in form of bringing liberal democracy to former subjects of the Soviet empire. Instead of being re-evaluated, NATO got bigger. This tendency to expand as a way to avoid being outdated can make an international organization weaker with time and is the practice that should be abolished.

Still not time for NATO to retire

With post-Cold  war era, the major security threat to NATO disappeared but NATO is still very much needed to counter contemporary security threats. The dark path of transatlantic partnership and grim scenarios are not real.  From military point of view, NATO is in incredibly good shape and membership in NATO is a strategic necessity for European states since dreams about European army and strategic autonomy are far from becoming real any time soon. It is expected that following Brexit, non-EU allies will contribute to around 80% of NATO’s defense spending. Since EU’s military capability will be weakened after departure of UK, NATO will be even more important. U.S. and China will be the two key countries engaged in geo strategic political battles. Both Europe and America will be better off in such geopolitical environment if they are committed to strong NATO, that balances the security burden equitably.

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