NATO’s Summit

As doubts over NATO’s credibility grow, the organization must adapt to a changing world
Members of NATO

The NATO alliance has proved to be astonishingly durable by historical standards. Founded 70 years ago to protect Western Europe from Joseph Stalin, it has deployed battlegroups in three Baltic states and Poland, responded appropriately to Russian hostility in Ukraine in 2014 and has committed to improving its readiness to respond to particular situations. However, it now faces various problems.

Emmanuel Macron’s pre-summit phrase describing NATO as ‘brain dead’ has earned sharp rebukes from Angela Merkel and Donald Trump. Nevertheless, despite the fractious public exchanges between leaders, the summit was more productive than some might have thought. In the nine paragraph post-summit statement, France recognised that ‘Russia’s aggressive actions’ are as important a threat as ‘terrorism in all its forms’, ensuring that Islamic State is still prevalent and the fight against terrorism is not over (contrary to the opinion Trump expressed last month). There were a few useful decisions made on military readiness. 

Though many countries, notably Germany, fall short of their promises, between 2016 and 2020 it is estimated that NATO’s European members and Canada will shell out an extra $130 billion. However, even though Trump has now shifted to being in favour of NATO (he fiercely criticised Macron’s comments as ‘nasty’ and ‘disrespectful’), America’s focus is now shifting to its rivalry with China, and this is its main national security priority. This is exacerbated by Trump’s animosity towards European integration and his transactional approach to NATO. 

NATO has also lost the honest, frank environment it once possessed when allies would consult each other before making an important decision. The lack of prior notice before the US pulled its troops out of Northern Syria, alongside Turkey’s decision to fight the very Kurdish militias, which NATO supports, has angered many. 

To solve these issues, confidence should be restored in the collective defence commitment in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. Although defence spending is rising, and combat-ready troops have already been deployed by countries like the US in Eastern Europe, Trump is vague over whether the US would defend a NATO ally who was not meeting the 2% defence spending target. America’s commitment to defend Europe through NATO provided the security necessary for Europe’s democracies to flourish and for their economies to integrate and grow. Macron’s scepticism over whether Article 5 even works is deeply damaging, hence a clearer US commitment to collective defence is needed to get rid of the doubts surrounding NATO’s purpose. 

NATO’s environment should also be changed, such that the democracies of Europe and North America can debate important threats openly. This means Turkey should be able to collaborate with NATO and discuss its issues and the threats it faces, as other allies are committed to coming to Turkey’s defence. As China’s military power grows, and Russian aggression increases, political consultations should be made on the implications of this and how to deter any malign activities they pursue. Countries which don’t reflect NATO’s values, which are embodied by democracy, should face serious consequences. 

Tanya V