On 4 April, NATO turned 70 years old. The atmosphere at the celebrations was quarrelsome, as often happens with the elderly when they start losing their marbles. It was a sign of profound schizophrenia. Some NATO members are still faithful to the old Cold War policy, while others don’t quite understand what is wanted of them and what they should do in the future – combat the new threats posed by terrorism or continue obediently following orders from Washington.
Canada’s foreign affairs minister, Chrystia Freeland, used the get-together to express her displeasure at America’s protectionist measures and steel tariffs, while a conversation between Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did nothing to change the positions of the two countries – Turkey is going to buy Russia’s advanced S-400 system and, in retaliation, the US is going to stop delivery of its F-35 fighter jets to Turkey. Other high-ranking officials also tried to influence Turkey, from US Vice-President Mike Pence to the NATO Secretary General, but to no avail. Incidentally, the Turkish representative was absent from the last ministerial meeting in Brussels.
It is telling that such a split also exists within the US. As Cato Institute expert A. Trevor Thrall writes: “the track record of American foreign policy is far from glorious and recent surveys thus reveal entirely sensible reactions to our failures […] Washington needs to wake up and start taking public opinion seriously. No one will confuse the average American with a foreign policy expert, but given America’s history and current situation, public preferences are stable, clear, and prudent. The American public wants a less ambitious and less aggressive foreign policy than the United States has pursued since the end of the Cold War, and especially over the past 18 years. The task for Washington today is to embrace these attitudes and create a new foreign policy worthy of public support.”
On the eve of the summit, Charles Kupchan, a modern liberal ideologue, decided to do some sleight of hand in Foreign Affairs magazine and confused wishful thinking with reality: “The alliance has contributed significantly to the campaign against the Islamic State (or ISIS), providing surveillance aircraft and helping train Iraqi forces. NATO has deployed ships to the Aegean and the Mediterranean to help provide maritime security and address the migration crisis. […] Through the Mediterranean Dialogue and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, NATO advises many countries in the broader Middle East, including Egypt, Israel, Morocco, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates. NATO has cooperation agreements with its global partners, which include Australia, Japan, Korea, and Pakistan. The alliance has already opened the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats and is in the midst of establishing a new Cyberspace Operations Centre.”
Kupchan shied away from mentioning NATO’s Operation Fajr al-Nasr (Before the Dawn), which transformed the previously flourishing and economically sound Libya into a shattered country that became a breeding ground for chaos and terrorism in North Africa and the Middle East.
He could have also mentioned the consequences of the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. In fact, it was on 4 April, some twenty years ago, that rockets hit the cities of Belgrade, Kraljevo, Čačak, Novi Sad, Smederevo and a number of other populated areas, destroying infrastructure and killing civilians.The NATO festivities in Washington actually began the day before its official birthday. For the first time in the organisation’s history, the NATO Secretary General addressed the US Congress. “We have to be frank that questions are being asked on both sides of the Atlantic about the strength of our partnership,” Jens Stoltenberg said, adding: “Today there are disagreements on issues such as trade, energy, climate change and the Iran nuclear deal. These are serious issues with serious disagreements.”
During his speech, Stoltenberg called for a unified position, especially with regard to arms control agreements, then immediately switched to criticising Russia, referring to “a massive military buildup from the Arctic to the Mediterranean and from the Black Sea to the Baltic”. It goes without saying that he also mentioned the Skripal case, Russia’s consistent cyberattacks on its NATO allies, and the country’s attempts to interfere in democracy. All without any kind of evidence, of course. Apparently, Stoltenberg didn’t consider it necessary to wave around a test tube full of white powder, as Pentagon chief Colin Powell had done prior to America’s invasion of Iraq.
At a meeting between Stoltenberg and Donald Trump at the White House, the US president nevertheless noted that NATO had become “obsolete”, and even said that the US might pull out of the alliance if other members didn’t boost their defence spending to match that of the US. Germany was one of the countries Trump mentioned as not paying its “fair share”.
But it certainly can’t be said that the US president doesn’t pay NATO enough attention. In March, Trump appointed US Air Force General Tod Wolters as NATO’s new supreme allied commander in Europe, while Poland has started being referred to as Fort Trump.
Progressive interventionist liberals still consider the US president to be one of the biggest internal threats to the alliance, however.
The NATO allies “are confronting daunting and complex challenges […] Most significant is a challenge NATO has not faced before: the absence of strong American presidential leadership”, write two former US ambassadors to NATO, Nicholas Burns and Douglas Lute, in a report published by Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs to mark the alliance’s 70th anniversary.
The two authors also argue that Trump’s opinion is unlikely to change, so the alliance will be under constant pressure from the White House in the years ahead. Unless the Republicans and Democrats in Congress manage to find a consensus, that is, and work together against Trump. Oddly enough, Burns and Lute also mention Germany, which only spends 1.24 per cent of its budget on defence, while countries like Italy, Canada, Spain and the Netherlands spend 2 per cent.
Other problems include the actions of some NATO members that Burns and Lute regard as anti-democratic, such as the suppression of free speech and independent courts in Poland, Hungary and Turkey, and the lack of an appropriate decision-making process.
According to the report’s authors, NATO’s external challenges include the actions of Russia, the need to end the war in Afghanistan, and the difficulty of maintaining too many contacts at the same time – NATO has a variety of agreements with more than 40 countries.
Future challenges also include China’s growing military and political capabilities, as well as its influence.
Another interesting detail is that, on the eve of the NATO summit, certain US media outlets began making statements implying that NATO funds would be used to build the wall with Mexico.
Chances are that, for American liberals, these statements have just one meaning, but from the outside, and in view of American history, they have a much deeper meaning and one is immediately reminded of the fence-painting episode in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Not only did some neighbourhood kids help Tom do the dirty, boring job, they even paid him for the privilege! One only needs to know how to engage, advertise and promote – all things that Americans have a great track record in, as the eminent US journalist and writer noted back in the 19th century.
Yet those currently fighting for peace in the US seem to be experiencing some difficulties with self-promotion. Despite the fact that a coalition of 30 non-governmental organisations was created on the eve of the summit with planned protests in Washington, they were poorly attended and passed almost unnoticed. It’s not just that organisers like these are finding it impossible to create the kind of anti-war movement that was around during the Vietnam war, they can’t even stir up anything approaching the anti-globalisation movement’s counter summit that was held alongside the 1999 WTO summit in Seattle. It seems that America’s oppressive regime and its intelligence agencies have had such a profound effect on the country’s independent organisations that a true democracy is now nothing more than a pipe dream.