Even if NATO wasn’t just a military alliance but mainly a project of Western hegemony, this project has failed many times, causing only destruction from Afghanistan to Libya. That, and a host of other reasons, are really telling as to why NATO is trembling on its 70th birthday. On the one hand, Turkey, NATO’s second biggest force, is challenging the organisation’s unwritten protocol of allying with Russia, a country that NATO very specifically sees as its archival. But Turkey, despite being a NATO member, has never been a truly ‘western’ in strategic terms, thanks to the EU’ own resistance against making Turkey a full EU member. Its non-western strategic orientation has become very obvious ever since it started to cooperate with Russia over Syria and deepened its strategic relations, an example of which is the Turkey’s procurement of S-400 missile system. But Turkey’s example hardly tells the large conflict brewing within the otherwise truly ‘western oriented’ bloc of NATO i.e., Europe and the US No wonder, the recent celebration of NATO’s 70th birthday revealed more about this conflict than the organisation’s strategic unity.
In his final remarks before an extended bilateral meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at the White House on April 2, Trump lashed out yet again at NATO because of the financial burden that the US was defraying for Europe’s security. President Trump, who had ‘forgotten’ to congratulate NATO on its 70th anniversary, said that “the United States alone accounts for the vast majority of NATO defense spending. And we really cannot rely on one nation to defend all. If you look at it, the disproportionality of what the United States is doing is really too great.”
On the one hand, the US is pressuring NATO countries to increase their defense spending and live up to the 2 per cent mark, and one the other hand, the US president is not ready to believe that NATO’s real enemy is Russia. In his other remarks before the other bi-lateral meeting, Trump rather interjected the NATO G.S. on his remarks about Russia and said, “I hope that it’s not going to be a security threat. I hope we have a good relationship with Russia and with, by the way, China and everybody else…..But I think we’ll get along with Russia. I do — I do believe that.” The real enemy, Trump said, is “terrorism.”
But NATO, politically survives as it does on the notion of “Russian aggression”, still decided in ministerial summit to increase its presence in and around the Black Sea region in order to keep a close watch on “Russian activity.” But it remains as to whether NATO can accomplish this objective or not since NATO’s primary route to the Black Sea is through Turkey, which controls the Bosporous and Dardanelles Straits under the Montreux Convention. Turkey, therefore, must agrees to it first. If it doesn’t agree, then the agenda of permanent presence in the Black Sea would crumble even before starting. It would fail yet again because of very obvious deep divisions within NATO.
Turkey, inevitably, was a subject of harsh criticism in the celebrations that were held to mark the organisation’s 70th anniversary. Mike Pence said, “Turkey must choose: Does it want to remain a critical partner in the most successful military alliance in history of the world? Or does it want to risk the security of that partnership by making reckless decisions that undermine our alliance?”
No wonder, NATO leadership does recognise how the organisation is heading towards a collapse; hence, Stoltenberg’s strongly worded message of “unity” to the US Congress. “When we stand together, we are stronger than any potential challenger — economically, politically and militarily,” said Stoltenberg, who is only the first NATO chief to address a joint meeting of Congress at a time when the US is being seen within NATO as a potential “spoiler” and Trump’s “America First” strategy as “unilateral approach” against NATO’s “collective mission.”
A February 2019 report of Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and its Kennedy School on NATO, penned by former US officials, said that “Trump’s open ambivalence about NATO’s value to the US, his public questioning of America’s Article 5 commitment” and his “persistent criticism of Europe’s democratic leaders and embrace of its anti-democratic members and continued weakness in failing to confront NATO’s primary adversary President Vladimir Putin of Russia” are taking “the Alliance into its most worrisome crisis in memory.”
NATO’s position is thus increasingly becoming grotesque. The US doesn’t consider Russia enemy yet it opposes Turkey’s buying of S-400 missile systems from Russia. Turkey, too, doesn’t see Russian an enemy; therefore, does not hesitate to buy that missile system. The EU countries, on the other hand, see a “Russian threat”, but they hesitate to increase their spending and it angers the US They are increasing spending only because Trump is forcing them to do so. NATO countries don’t like Trump’s “America First” strategy and see it as a potentially counter-intuitive.
With NATO’s two biggest military powers not seeing Russia as an enemy or a threat, and the rest of the NATO seeing Russia as a threat, and with so many other disagreements and differences simmering deep in the organisation, NATO’s ideological orientation becomes a maze wherein the very organisation is self-defeatingly lost, unable to find a way out and thus facing a deadlock.
Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.