Dear Partners in thought,
As we are at the seventieth anniversary of NATO, an alliance which underpinned Western security in the post-WW2 world, especially in Europe, we live through what appears as existential times for the organisation. It’s been criticised, even attacked, from different quarters even though it is still a very potent and valid tenet of Western security.
The truth is that while Trump, Macron and Merkel – Macron certainly with the most vigour this past week – criticise or defend NATO, all with their own agendas, they are all right – to some degree.
Trump is right when he lambasts some NATO members especially like Germany for not paying up their dues, namely 2% of GDP on defence. However he is terribly wrong in his actions when he takes decisions that harm the security of the Middle East with repercussions for Europe in letting Turkey unsettle the Syrian balance while forgetting the Kurds (the latter tragedy which will remain the cardinal sin of his presidency). Yes all NATO members should contribute to their own level but no the US should not let down its allies, as all senior American military leaders will agree, as this will have an effect on the very institution that is NATO, especially at an uncertain time for Europe with an overall erratic America, a Brexit-lost Britain, a resurgent Russia, an emboldened Iran and an unstoppably rising China.
Macron is right in feeling that America has lost its ways under Trump (a “first” judging by all the efforts he did to accommodate the US President ever since the Bastille Day parade of 2017). The “brain dead” assertion may be too harsh but NATO is not only about money as Trump focuses on – it is about consistent leadership that is increasingly lacking in Washington. Macron is also right on stressing that Europe, though the EU (and of course with the indispensable Britain) should play more of a major and independent role in defence, which could only make NATO stronger, all this while normalising, as much as possible, relations with Russia.
Merkel is right in saying that Macron is too harsh about NATO today but she is too readily pliable with the current DC and should not forget that Germany has benefitted from many post-war developments like NATO, the EU or even the Euro without really playing a commensurate role in foreign policy and defence that would befit the leading EU member state – all under the old excuse, which was understandable in years past, of the war guilt. It would be nice if Germany was assuming more of a leading role in Europe outside the economic sphere and contributed to its powerful level.
NATO is here to stay and will keep providing the needed and unique alliance for the West and Western Europe in particular at a time of an economically weak but militarily powerful Russia if only as the latter keeps respecting sheer power. NATO like other institutions built by America and its allies (that, as an aside, served American interests very well) is also a cement for what is the West. It is actually good that organisations like NATO be the subject of discussions as to their future, however intense, among its members as years go by and the world no longer ressembles (one would hope) the one we knew under the Cold War even if far more geopolitically complex going forward.