Tuesday, March 10, 2020, 21:52 (GMT+7)
NATO – 70 years of existence and recent divergence

NATO recently celebrated its 70th anniversary amid deep internal division and divergence, casting a shadow on the future of the block, one of the world most sizeable military and political alliances.

Founded in 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) is a political and military alliance of the West headed by the U.S with primary aim of containing the growth of the former USSR and socialist countries in Eastern Europe. To balance against NATO, in 1955, the USSR and socialist countries in Eastern Europe established the Warsaw Pact. The balance of power between NATO and the Warsaw Pact became the cornerstone during the Cold War between the U.S and the USSR.

In the early of 1990s, the world political situation witnessed deep changes with the collapse of the USSR and socialist regimes in Eastern Europe and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, ending up the bipolarity. Despite being a winning party, NATO’s dilemma and divergence became increasingly bigger as its opponent no longer existed.

The divergence among NATO members

After the end of the Cold War, NATO’s enlargements to include its former adversaries in the central and eastern Europe were aimed to expand its influence to the “Post-Soviet” space. More specifically, during the Cold War, NATO admitted only 4 new members, while 13 others were included after the Cold War, increasing its total memberships to 29. Accordingly, NATO’s border has also been made closer to Russia. However, the fast increase in the number of membership also led to a number of problems, including the decrease in unity, the key factor of the block. If in the war against Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, the U.S was highly compromised, there was a stark division among the block under the name of the "war on terror" in Iraq in 2003 as some key members including Germany, France and Italy deemed such a military intervention against Bagdad unconvincing and unnecessary. NATO’s policy makers then admitted that the war against Iraq had caused a belief crisis among its members.

In the relations with its Russian adversary, NATO also shows severe disagreements. Some of its central and Eastern European members supported a tough sanction against Russia in retaliation for Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 and their perceived threat from Russia. Some also led the U.S deploy strategic air defence systems to counter Russia, worsening their relations. In contrast, some key members held that the block’s sanctions against Kremlin were all counter-productive. In their opinions, NATO should apply more flexible approach to Russia. Ignoring the pressure from the U.S, Germany still strengthened cooperation with Russia, facilitated the “Nord Stream” Project and announced that not only Germany and Russia but all Europe would be benefited from this strategic project. Besides Germany, France also appreciated the role of Russia in the realm of security and development of Europe and Paris. Therefore, Moscow and some NATO members have signed many economic, political and security cooperation agreements.

While the disagreement about its relations with Russia was still unsolved, NATO faced another internal conflict when Turkey conducted attacks into Kurdish communities in northern Syria, a hindrance to the block’s war against the self-proclaimed Islamic State terrorist group. Especially, some NATO members also imposed an unprecedented arms export ban on Turkey. Some NATO leaders held that internal disagreements are spoiling the block’s unity.

Increasing cracks in the Trans-Atlantic relations

With his “America first” and “Make America great again” slogans, upon coming to the White House, President Trump carried out a number of shocking policies not only revoking his predecessors but also concerning his NATO allies. It is said that Donald Trump is the first U.S president to criticize the Trans-Atlantic alliance which has long been considered the symbol of the West. President Trump announced that it is unfair for the U.S to pay for most of the spending for the benefit of other countries in the block. He threatened that if other NATO members didn’t increase defence budget to 2% GDP, the U.S wouldn’t guarantee security for them. President Trump also imposed higher tariff on European products. In response, Europe, including the U.S long-established allies did the same to American goods. This pushed the U.S and Europe on the brink of a “trade war”. Moreover, Washington always acted arbitrarily as deciding international matters without taking its allies’ security and benefit into account. Many NATO members criticised the U.S heavily for unilaterally withdrawing from the P5+1 Pact (signed in 2015 between Iran and Group 5+1, including Britain, France, China, Russia, US, and Germany) without their consultation, and its revocation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty signed between the U.S and USSR in 1987. European countries in NATO held that the US cancel of nuclear weapon controlling mechanisms would endanger the world, and Europe might become the battlefield in the confrontation among  nuclear powers – a scary scenario to the old continent. Besides, NATO allies also criticised Trump’s decisions in the Middle East, particularly its withdrawal of troops in Syria which goes counter to the commitments that the U.S has made.

According to international analysts, the relations between the two sides of the Atlantic have long turned bad as the cracks appeared since Obama’s pivoting strategy to Asia – Pacific. Their concern of being abandoned is now becoming increasingly apparent. Following his predecessor, President Trump prioritised his “America first” policies, worsening its relations with European allies. Many European leaders believed that under Trump administration, they are being treated as “second-class citizens” and Europe is becoming a security hostage of the U.S. Due to the concern about instabilities in the Trans-Atlantic relations, European Union, including some key members of NATO, is thinking about building a self-reliant and independent defence to reduce their dependence on the U.S security umbrella.  

NATO’s “brain death”

International observers hold that the divergence among NATO members reflects a fact that this alliance lacks a strategic orientation and coordination at macro level, and fails to compromise on responsibility sharing.  The implementation of the core articles, such as Article 5 on collective defence which rules that an attack into one or more members of NATO shall be considered an attack to all has also been distorted. US refusal to support Britain’s oil tanker arrested in the Hormuz Strait in July 2019 by Iran, citing that US did not sign any agreements ruling its responsibility in such incident, is a controversial topic in the block.

Explaining the main reasons which cause NATO’s “brain death” as in the words of French President E. Macron, analysts hold that the viewpoints and political and military lines relating to collective defence applied by NATO in the Cold War have become outdated since  this alliance has transitioned from a continent-defensive alliance to a global offensive one. Therefore, at the Summit celebrating its 70th birthday, NATO leaders considered the making of a suitable strategy in the new circumstance is an urgent task and save the block from “brain dead” status. The summit has mapped out some strategic orientations. Besides counter-terrorism operations, NATO will focus more on aerospace; developing protective capability for military and civilian satellites; involving in the strategic rivalry with Russia and China. As such, strategically, NATO has listed China as its rival. Last but not least, this alliance has also agreed on establishing a study group for its new political and military doctrines to suit the reality. Is it the necessary renovation and how far it will go is still an open question.

International opinion holds that amid the context of globalisation and international integration, the main trend of reduced confrontation, peaceful settlements of disputes by dialogues, and cooperation for mutual development, NATO should uphold its positive role as a world leading political and military alliance in maintaining international laws, the UN Charter to protect the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of countries, and that the existence and development of NATO can be achieved only by close cooperation with other countries to deal with and repel the threats, and build a world of peace, stability, development and prosperity; resolutely not to use its deterrent power or force to gain its hegemony in the region and the world.

Duc Minh

 

 

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