When the leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) got together in London earlier this week to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the mutual defence alliance, there was little unity of purpose on display — and certainly a lot of squabbling.
Indeed, now after seven decades of protesting the West against the East, it seems as if there’s a touch of dementia settling into the 70-year-old body.
It has forgotten its past and seems to be looking to the future with trepidation — certainly its lifespan seems limited if its demise isn’t exactly around the corner.
For those who follow the baby boomer generation, maybe they need reminding of just how successful Nato was. Together, its members bridged the Atlantic, combined their defensive capabilities and stood as a bulwark against the nuclear missiles, the air forces, the nuclear submarines lurking beneath the waves, the massed men and thousands of Soviet tanks that seemed ready and able to pour across the minefields and barbed wire of the Iron Curtain and sweep across western Europe.
In just 35 years before Nato was founded in 1949, Europe and much of the rest of the world had been catastrophically destroyed in two bitter conflicts that together had killed close to 100 million people.
Since most western European nations along with the United States and Canada agreed on a military alliance to oppose the Soviet bloc and came together to form Nato, peace has largely prevailed.
Bulwark against Communism
Nato has stood as a very successful bulwark against Communist expansionism. It has provided the means for that Cold War to be won without a shot being fired in anger across that Iron Curtain, and now faces a crisis over what its vert future should be.
When the US was attacked by Al Qaida terrorists on 9/11, Nato immediately activated its mutual self-defence protocols — an attack on any member is an attack against all. Would that to happen today is certainly doubtful, given the open acrimony that exists between the current generation of leaders of Nato.
That is an acrimony that surfaced in London earlier this week — and all it took for those deep divisions to be exposed was a video of a cocktail party and some candid hot-mic comments as Prime Ministers Justin Trudeau of Canada, Boris Johnson of the UK and Mark Rutte of the Netherlands chatted to French President Emmanuel Macron about the press conference habits of President Donald Trump.
When trump says that most of the other 28 members of Nato aren’t paying their way and that the US is unfairly paying too much to protect Europe, he’s not incorrect. It’s just that it’s in the US interest to ensure Nato is there, has won the peace of the Cold War, and was there when America needed it in the days after 9/11
No sooner than that video circulated, did the US president hot tail it back to Washington in a huff, throwing in some typically asinine comments about Macron and Trudeau.
Is this what Nato has come to? Whatever happened to that adage about sticks and stones breaking bones but name never hurting?
This apparent crisis at 70 has been several years in the making and underscores a much longer lingering issue about what exactly is the mission statement for Nato.
Perspective in Washington
President Trump views the world from his own myopic perspective in Washington. That is a reality that other leaders in the Western sphere — and the rest of the global stage — must come to terms with. He’s in Washington, is the commander-in-chief of the world’s mightiest superpower, and isn’t going anywhere.
So when he says that most of the other 28 members of Nato aren’t paying their way and that the US is unfairly paying too much to protect Europe, he’s not incorrect. It’s just that it’s in the US interest to ensure Nato is there, has won the peace of the Cold War, and was there when America needed it in the days after 9/11. That’s a very simplistic view, but President Trump sees things in a simplistic manner: What’s in it for me?
He has latched on to Nato members who fail to spend 2 per cent of the Gross domestic Product on defence — and that has rubbed liberal nations the wrong way. And Trump is engaged in a trade war with China, and views its rising military power on the Pacific Rim as “bad”.
Britian wants Nato to focus on the traditional adversary of Russia — and nerve agent incidents in the UK do nothing to suggest otherwise. And Macron wants Nato to focus on targeting the threat of terrorism and extremists.
Turkey is buying Russian air defence systems and is allied with the Kremlin in northern Syria — and Greece is at odds with Ankara. Balkan states remember Nato’s role in their wars of independence, the Baltic states are weary of Russia and remember the Crimea and Ukraine. And Canada? It just wants to keep as far away from the US as it can.
Is it any wonder that Nato then has a bit of an identity crisis at the moment?
Mick O’Reilly is the Gulf News Foreign Correspondent based in Europe