January 18, 2020

Why the World Still Needs NATO

“There is nothing like the threat of nuclear Armageddon for focusing minds. That, at least, was true for Nato over the decades from its foundation in 1949. During the Cold War the alliance had a common purpose (collective defence), a common space (the North Atlantic) and a common adversary (the Soviet bloc).

The fundamentals were simple. So they were, too, when from 1989, after the Berlin Wall fell, states in central and eastern Europe joined Nato. Yet on 3 December, as its leaders gathered in London to mark Nato’s 70th birthday, big questions loom over its future. Emmanuel Macron even declared Nato “brain-dead” in an interview with the Economist last month.

His intervention aimed to provoke – and succeeded. Shocked Atlanticists from Washington to Warsaw decried its irresponsibility. “That is not my view of cooperation in Nato,” tutted Angela Merkel. Recep Tayyip Erdogan was less diplomatic. Macron, opined Turkey’s president, was the one suffering from brain-death. Donald Trump called Macron’s comments “insulting”.

True, the French president’s language was inflammatory. Nato’s Article 5, collective defence, still enshrines the principle that an attack on one is an attack on all. It might feel abstract from the comfort of Paris but on Europe’s eastern fringes it is entirely meaningful: visit the Baltics, which look nervously at the build-up of forces in the neighbouring Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. Here Article 5 means the difference between peaceful sovereignty and the hybrid warfare that Russia has applied in Ukraine and Georgia. Then there are ongoing Nato deployments in Afghanistan and Kosovo to take into account. An odd sort of brain-death, one might think.”

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