They came for the party, quarrelled and even called names. That’s how the 70th jubilee party of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, the world’s strongest military alliance, began and ended. The 29-member military alliance, which held its platinum jubilee summit this week in London, is in disarray. Its member states struggle to strike a balance between their individual national interests and the alliance’s collective interest, which often happens to be the United States’ geostrategic interest.
Despite the bad blood and the squabbles over personality and policy, the London summit found three reasons why NATO should still exist -- Terrorism, Russia, and, for the first time, China. the inclusion of China gives further credence to the claim that NATO exists to do the United States’ bidding. Analysts believe that Washington is said to have convinced its NATO allies to name China as a threat. In bringing in China, the Trump administration, it appears, is trying to give NATO some purpose to exist although Trump himself in the past has questioned its relevance.
Even before taking office in January 2017, he described NATO as “obsolete and a relic of the Cold War. Then once in office, he accused the NATO allies of being stingy and expecting the US to pay for their defence. He was particularly harsh on Germany.
“Germany owes vast sums of money to NATO, and the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defence it provides to Germany,” The businessman president said and insisted every NATO member should set aside at least two percent of their national budget for defence.
Despite these early Trump attacks, there appears to be some new found enthusiasm on the part of the US to re-launch NATO on a new trajectory. So there, Trump was slamming French President Emmanuel Macron this week for undermining NATO. In recent comments, Macron said NATO was suffering from “brain death” in part due to a lack of US leadership under Trump. He also described the alliance as a “burden we share.” Trump hit out by saying Macron’s comments were “nasty” and “insulting.”
Facing at home the worst crisis of his political career, with the House of Representatives closing in on an impeachment motion, Trump did not find the much-needed respite at the London summit. On the contrary, the summit air was filled with ill-feelings. Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was caught on video mocking Trump’s rambling media appearances. Later Trump called Trudeau “two-faced” and cancelled his final news briefing.
The bitterness among NATO members did not happen in a vacuum. It began no sooner the Cold War ended in 1991. As the Soviet-led Warsaw military alliance disbanded itself soon after the end of the Cold War, there emerged a strong call for the disbanding of the NATO, which was formed in October 1949 to counter the Soviet military threat to the so-called “free world”.
In the early post-Cold War period, France and Germany pondered the formation of a European military force, but such an arrangement did not see the light of day because the US opposed it. To put it in another way, the US used NATO to achieve its geostrategic objectives. It happened in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Then there were attempts by Washington to expand NATO to Russia’s backyard.
Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia -- nations which emerged from the former Soviet Union –joined the NATO when Russia was weak in the early years of the post-Cold War period. But later, when Russia emerged stronger under the leadership of Vladimir Putin, NATO’s move to woo Georgia led to Russia’s military action in that country.
Today, both Russia and NATO have deployed advanced missiles to counter threats from each other. Such a tit-for-tat military buildup comes amidst contradictory signals from the Trump administration with regard to Russia, a country that is alleged to have put Trump in the White House through hacking and Facebook adverts. In many statements, Trump has indicated he has a soft spot for Russia and its authoritarian leader. However in recent months, the US has ended a key nuclear treaty with Russia. Adding to confusion, Trump last week called for a new nuclear missile treaty with Russia. Trump’s policies do not make clear whether Russia is a friend or foe.
On the Asian front, however, the US is unhappy over NATO allies’ lackadaisical response to China’s growing military power. Many NATO nations have close economic ties with China. Hence their reluctance to toe the US line and name China as a threat.
The inclusion of China in the final declaration, analysts believe, must have come from the US, which is worried about rapidly improving China-Europe trade ties which are set to receive a further boost through the Belt and Road Initiative. Worried about China’s lead in the 5G technology, which is set to bring revolutionary changes to the world and people’s lifestyles, the US appears to be determined to scuttle China’s advance.
Addressing the summit, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg urged the alliance to take the Chinese threat more seriously, describing it as “coming closer to us.”
“We see them in the Arctic, we see them in Africa, we see them investing heavily in European infrastructure and of course investing in cyberspace,” Stoltenberg said. He however clarified that he was not calling on NATO to move into the South China Sea.
It is against the backdrop of these political shenanigans, that NATO leaders cobbled together a London declaration, covering up the squabbles and disagreements over the two percent defence budget, Turkey’s purchase of Russian missiles and the war in Syria.
“In challenging times, we are stronger as an alliance, and our people safer. Our bond and mutual commitment have guaranteed our freedoms, our values, and our security for 70 years, said the declaration.
As the jubilee party ended with the world more unsafe than before the summit due to NATO getting a new enemy, China, the Western military alliance should focus more on world peace instead of honing its capabilities to face more conflicts.