Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 7 December 2019

Nato turns 70 but its future hangs in the balance

The world’s foremost military alliance is fractured and lacks leadership

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and French President Emmanuel Macron. AFP
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and French President Emmanuel Macron. AFP

To mark the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation 70th anniversary, its 29 members countries are convening over the next two days to celebrate the world’s strongest military and strategic alliance. But behind the seemingly celebratory scenes, Nato’s future has never been so uncertain, with member countries increasingly facing challenges from within − starting with the alliance’s second largest military force, Turkey.

For years, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sought to use his nation’s influential role within the alliance to pressure other states into acquiescing to his demands. Mr Erdogan has proven to be ruthless in this pursuit. He has threatened to veto plans to defend eastern European countries unless the alliance declares the People’s Protection Units (YPG) a terrorist organisation. The Kurdish armed group is backed by the US and helped defeat ISIS in Syria, but Ankara considers it an offshoot of its homegrown Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has led an insurgency against the government for decades and is designated a terrorist entity. That he is prepared to jeopardise the security of fellow Nato members in Europe for the sake of his own political gain goes against the alliance’s raison d’etre, which is based on presenting a united defence.

Meanwhile Ankara’s ties with Moscow, which sits outside the circle of trust, are strengthening, just as its relations with the US, which heads Nato, are crumbling. Despite a clamour of opposition, Mr Erdogan signed a deal to buy Russian-made S-400 missiles, a choice that prompted Ankara to be expelled from the US F-35 stealth fighter programme. Tensions between the US and Turkey have come at a time of growing American detachment from Nato, which US President Donald Trump has called “obsolete”, creating a leadership vacuum within the organisation.

And while French President Emmanuel Macron has attempted to take charge and steer Nato in a new direction, his efforts have so far backfired. He called Nato “strategically brain-dead” and criticised Mr Trump’s decision to withdraw most US troops from north-eastern Syria in October without consulting his Nato allies. The move led to Ankara invading the region. What could have been constructive criticism and an opportunity for Mr Macron to take a dignified stand has only resulted in more internal bickering. German Chancellor Angela Merkel accused Mr Macron of pursuing “disruptive politics” while Mr Erdogan petulantly retaliated by saying it was the French president who was brain-dead.

Nato is the world’s foremost military alliance yet today its hallmark is disunity as members use it as an arena to settle scores and impose their agenda on weaker states

These public arguments between countries that are supposed to be allies are not only unseemly; they are a waste of resources, time and potential. They are taking up the time of some of the world’s most powerful leaders. Nato is the world’s foremost military alliance, ensuring peace in the wake of the devastation of the Second World War and acting as a stabilising force for nearly half a century during the Cold War era. Yet today its hallmark is disunity as members disagree, use it as an arena to settle scores and impose their own agenda on weaker states. It was only four years ago that world leaders joined hands at the annual summit to sing a rendition of We Are The World. Today such an image is unthinkable. If the organisation is to stay relevant, member countries must find a new common purpose, remind one another of their shared goals and rally behind strong leadership to guide the alliance into the next 70 years.

Updated: December 2, 2019 04:42 PM

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