Politicians and experts have been discussing the presence of a deep crisis within North Atlantic Alliance for many decades.
It may seem purely symbolic, however France has pointed out the existence of a crisis on multiple occasions: first in 1966, when Charles de Gaulle decided to withdraw France from the military integrated structures of NATO, and then when the alliance’s headquarters were transferred from Paris to Brussels. Now the French President, Emmanuel Macron, has given his objective assessment of NATO’s “brain-death” in both an interview with the Economist in November 2019, and then recently in a joint press conference with his Tunisian counterpart, Kais Saied, after a dangerous incident involving war ships of two NATO members (France and Turkey) off the Libyan coast. According to Macron, Europe today finds itself “on the precipice”, as members of the Alliance have clearly not been coordinated in their recent actions and the United States is increasingly turning away from the Old World. All of this means that the time has come for Europe to wake up, to start building up its own strength, and to think of itself as an independent geopolitical pole of power, otherwise it “will not control its own fate.” The French leader has realized that, under the United States’ leadership, the NATO bloc is not able to protect Europe’s interests in the era of China’s ascent and the West’s strained relations with Russia and Turkey. The French President has therefore expressed his frustration on Europe’s dependence on Washington’s whims, at a time where the American President is “turning his back on Europe” and does not “subscribe to the European idea”. As an example of this, he pointed to Trump’s sudden decision to withdraw some of his troops from the North-Eastern region of Syria, leaving his Kurdish allies to fend for themselves, without consulting his NATO partners first. In this context, Macron believes that NATO can only survive if the United States agrees to maintain its status as the Alliance’s main bastion of security. However, how long Washington can play this role for is unclear.
On November 15, the United States Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, whilst addressing the Baker Institute in Houston, commented on Macron’s assessment of NATO’s “brain-death”, noting that there have never been perfect relations within the Alliance. “We ought not to think the moment is new or fresh. The nations that comprise NATO have different interests. We saw what Turkey did these past few weeks,” said Pompeo.
Today, a crisis is brewing between the United States and Germany, which Donald Trump is continuing to stoke, whether with automobile duties, sanctions for cooperating with Russia (in particular for “Nord Stream 2”), or the withdrawal of NATO troops, as the German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel reports.
“The United States President’s decision to withdraw part of the American military contingent from Germany is evidence of the wider issues within NATO,” announced retired General Ben Hodges the other day, who previously served as commander of the US military contingent in Europe. It is interesting to note that America had originally explained that their presence in Germany was not due to the North Atlantic partnership, but to “protect [Germany] against Russia”. This announcement led to ironic ridicule in German society.
“Trump is saying that he is protecting Germany’s safety. But from what? Germany has become both a target and a hostage in any military conflict,” announced Waldemar Herdt, a member of the Bundestag. “I welcome Trump’s decision to start the demilitarization of Germany, because he is using NATO to provide for the economic needs of the United States against the interests of other Alliance members. In light of this, the German elites must learn to start thinking as a sovereign state, rather than as a vassal state of the United States,” emphasized Herdt.
A representative of the “Green” party in Germany and a member of the foreign affairs committee, Jürgen Trittin, has also recently discussed the idea that NATO is undergoing an existential crisis and is only a shadow of an alliance. In Der Spiegel, he called for a sober evaluation of the situation and to recognize that NATO has become threadbare. The politician has called on Europe to solve the current issues independently and to resolve disputes within NATO, especially regarding its relationship with Russia and the Iranian nuclear deal, which the United States recently scrapped unilaterally without prior agreement with its partners. Trittin is convinced that Europe should stop feeling nostalgic for NATO and start consolidating its own strengths, backing the horse of sustainable sovereignty.
Many politicians and experts have already spoken about a crisis within NATO. Washington-lead operations in Afghanistan and Libya, which are outside the formal area of the Alliance’s responsibility, have been going on for many years without great success, despite bold statements from Washington and Brussels. As NATO is still a bloc in which the United States dominates militarily and imposes its policies on other member states, many European NATO countries are now raising their concerns about the possibility of the United States switching its attention to the Pacific region, and hence there being further unwarranted expansion of the Alliance’s operation zones.
As we can see, NATO is ill-equipped in the combat against terrorism. It is difficult to implement the decision about the increase of defense spending by member states: in 2014 it was agreed that each state should increase defense contributions to at least 2% of GDP by 2024. However, according to NATO’s statistical data, only two countries reached the 2% threshold in 2019, Poland and Latvia, while Lithuania, Romania, Estonia, Great Britain and Greece all already spend slightly more than 2%. Only two countries allocate more than 3% of GDP on defense spending – the United States and Bulgaria. There is not a great deal of time before the deadline, and there is no certainty that 20 of the 29 member states will “boost” their spending.
In many European countries, more than 50% of defense spending goes on staff. Small European armies now live in comfort and do not want to fight. There is also no European country which could simultaneously be part of NATO and a potential European army.
Last December, the NATO summit was held in London, and it was perhaps the most scandalous and controversial in the Alliance’s 70-year history, which is why the West’s military and political observers and experts were united in saying that the Alliance is experiencing the most serious crisis in its existence.
The American President, Donald Trump, has already spoken about the “uselessness of NATO” and the fact that “Europe should look after itself” in fairly harsh terms, and indeed Trump simply walked out of the final press conference in London. The American editor of Defense One has said that “NATO’s biggest threat is not from external enemies, but from within.”
Following Washington’s directives, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is using NATO to clamp down on the “threat policy”, at times pointing to the growing threat from Russia, or now looking at China, who “want to use the current coronavirus pandemic to strengthen their confrontation with NATO.” The formation of four NATO battalion groups has only recently been completed, strengthening grouping in the Baltic and Black seas. The Alliance’s infrastructure is continuing to be developed, and almost every day there are reports that Eastern European countries are starting or completing the construction of some facility or another. Recently, particular attention has been paid to strengthening the southern flank: American and British forces have sprung up in Romania, and multinational brigades are being formed there. Today, European security has taken a turn for the worse: for the first time in many years the security of the region is again being defined not by measures of restraint, not by efforts to ensure security without resorting to military force, but by maintaining a sort of “balance of threats”. This is leading to an even greater military concentration and confrontation in Europe. In doing this, and blinkered by his Russophobic prejudice, Jens Stoltenberg is not even listening to the Supreme Commander of NATO in Europe, Tod Wolters, who officially announced in a March 20, 2020 briefing that “Russia won’t be using the current international crisis for the advancing of its interests.”
Linked with this, it is worth recalling what the previous German Minister of foreign affairs, Joschka Fischer, said, underlining the fact that, “NATO’s future is more uncertain now than at any time in its history… Europeans should not harbor any illusions about what defense autonomy will require. For the European Union, which has only ever seen itself as an economic rather than a military power, it implies a deep rupture with the status quo. To be sure, NATO still exists, and there are still US troops deployed in Europe. But the operative word is “still”. Now that traditional institutions and transatlantic security and commitments have been cast into doubt, the alliance’s unravelling has become less a matter of “if” than “when”.”
Vladimir Odintsov, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.