The West Cannot Afford To Ditch Nato
Treaty in trouble: Erdogan has vowed to restore Turkey’s “axis of friendship” with Russia, and is severing ties with the West (© Murat Kaynak/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
This summer has been a nadir for the global health of democracy. July’s Nato summit in Warsaw was meant to be a reassertion of the West’s security framework after Britain’s decision to leave the EU. Instead, the conference has been followed by a failed coup in Turkey, China’s rejection of an international tribunal’s decision which invalidated its territorial claims in the South China Sea, and Donald Trump’s bellicose rhetoric as Republican presidential nominee. Western governments have yet again failed to stem the unravelling of the postwar international order. In its place isolationism and nationalism are taking hold. The reach of globalisation and the spread of Western liberal democracy that underpinned it are being challenged, not only in Russia and Turkey, but, unexpectedly, in the United States itself. In the midst of so many crises the current strategic focus and health of Nato has been overshadowed by Donald Trump’s attack on the future of transatlantic security. What Trump is saying is more than just bluster and the implications can only be understood within the context of broader political trends on both sides of the Atlantic.
Viewed from a security perspective, the surge of populist assaults on the international system has been shocking. From Brexit to the coup attempt in Turkey and Russian action in Syria, American foreign policy does not seem to guarantee the type of stability that it once ensured. For the first time since the end of the Cold War, Europe faces a dire security situation with little chance of resolution. Both France and Germany are being subjected to extended terrorist campaigns, threatening Angela Merkel’s political dominance, at a time when Brexit has thrust Germany into the position of reluctant European hegemon. The unintended consequence has been to undermine part of Nato’s original purpose: to keep Germany from regaining dominance in Europe. Nato has been unable to formulate effective responses to both Russian revanchism and haphazard European budgetary commitments for several years. These threats are now matched by far more serious existential questions about Nato’s future. Most significantly, the unprecedented questioning of the organisation’s relevance has unexpectedly become a feature of the US presidential debate.
Erdogan’s vicious hollowing-out of the Turkish state in the wake of the attempted coup has tipped Nato’s perennial questioning of resolve into the realm of a genuine security crisis. Turkey is becoming less, rather than more, Western and is sliding away from democracy. Nato faces the uncomfortable choice between weakening the alliance by trying to expel a member, or accepting a member that openly questions its commitment to liberal democratic values. Turkey is no longer the country it was ten years ago when it saw Nato as a stepping-stone to EU membership. It is enthralled by neo-Ottoman fantasies. President Erdogan nakedly peddles anti-Americanism and conspiracy theories about Nato meddling in Turkish politics. This is making Turkey’s continued membership of a US-backed security organisation untenable. The uncomfortable question becomes how many Nato members would now be willing to come to Turkey’s aid, cognisant not only of the decay of her democracy but also her willingness to provoke her neighbours.
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