NATO's rift wider than the Atlantic Ocean

China Military Online
Dong Zhaohui
2019-12-09 13:24:16

By Zhao Guojun

The two-day NATO Summit wrapped up near London, Britain on December 4th. Intended to be a gathering in celebration of the 70th anniversary of the founding of NATO, the summit, however, showed clear division among the members as internal conflicts came to the fore.

NATO’s internal strife is first reflected across the Atlantic Ocean.

Except for the UK that has a special relation with the US, the US doesn’t see eye to eye with other NATO members on many issues, including strategic concept and defense expenses. Washington is focused on whether the other members are going to bear more defense expenses and is trying to include Russia and China in NATO’s security agenda.

France criticized the US for not coordinating with other members at all when making strategic decisions, and was calling the alliance “brain-dead”. In particular, the US recently withdrew its troops from Syria without giving prior notice to NATO, than it gave a green light to Turkey attacking the Kurdish armed forces in Syria regardless of opposition from the European allies, which well demonstrated its neglect of their interests. Although German Chancellor Angela Merkel considered such a description exaggerated, the mounting conflicts within NATO are only too evident these days.

Behind the cross-Atlantic rift is France and other members’ changed perception of NATO’s role. After the September 11 attacks in 2001, the US would rather work alone or form an alliance based on temporary agenda regarding the anti-terror campaign and other issues. The American president Trump who upheld “America first” said that NATO was outdated after he took the office and imposed its hegemonic behaviors upon the allies. He has major disagreements with European leaders on a number of issues, including the Iranian nuclear agreement and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty), and is therefore described by his French counterpart Macron as the first American president whose thoughts were not aligned with the European allies. Against such a background, France and several other members believe Europe should have a more independent defense force. Although this assertion is not strong enough to shake the foundation of NATO yet, efforts are being made in that direction.

NATO’s rift is also reflected in the division between European members.

With NATO’s expansion, the influence of “old Europe” represented by France and Germany has been largely diluted. Unlike these two countries that are eager to establish an independent European defense system, the later comers from Central and Eastern Europe are more vigilant against Russia and hope to rely on NATO for defense and security. Their concern and sense of insecurity is fortified by Russia’s military operations during the conflict with Georgia and in the Crimea event. This gives Washington the space to contain the “old European countries” like France and Germany by taking advantage of the conflicts within the continent.

These divisions vary in nature and degree, but are mostly internal policy conflicts. Take the US and France for example. Although Macron and Trump both think little of NATO, the former is discontent with the US using it to serve its own interests while the latter aims to make the member states bear more defense expenses in order to gain more credits for the re-election campaign. Neither of them really wants to see the alliance come to an end.

As a matter of fact, the biggest difficulty for NATO now is to choose the right path, or in other words, to correctly define its security challenges.

As an outcome of the Cold War, NATO was born with confrontational “genes”. While all countries in the world are deepening cooperation and pursuing peace and development, finding a suitable position for itself is the “primary task” that concerns NATO’s future development.

NATO has two options.

First, it can go back to the defensive nature prescribed in its founding charter and limit its actions to the cross-Atlantic region, or, as Macron said, take terrorism as its main challenge. But that’s hard to do as it obviously does not conform to America’s mindset of strategic competition.

Second, it can view China and Russia as the key target and follow America’s lead from now on. But it will be difficult to coordinate the member states because they won’t be happy about the US using the alliance to achieve its own geopolitical interests.

Thoughts lead to path; vision presages the conclusion. In fact, many NATO members have common interests and similar views with China and Russia on major issues such as economy and trade, energy and safeguarding multilateralism, so they won’t blindly follow in America’s steps. NATO, which has to make a choice between Europe’s interests and America’s geopolitical interests, will see more clearly that hegemony and confrontation will take it nowhere.

(The author is from the Institute of International Studies of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences)


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