The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is trying to find its way back to “normalcy” after four years of drama under the proper direction of former U.S. President Donald Trump.
This will be a difficult task. It seems that NATO has lost its mojo after Trump distorted his vision and strategic values and questioned his shared destiny, albeit rhetorically.
But the arrival of the transatlantic liner Joe Biden gives life and vitality to the pact, as the president of the United States tries to assure the European allies the seriousness of his administration to rebuild trust and restore harmony.
It is not the first time the alliance has recovered from an internal crisis.
In fact, in recent decades there has been a disturbing perception of some kind of NATO crisis or another: a “deep crisis”, a “crisis that is deepening”, a “fundamental crisis”, a “General crisis”, an “unprecedented crisis” and even – a “real crisis”.
But NATO has always recovered.
Even before the end of the Cold War, NATO had its share of rupture and discord over the Suez Crisis, the Vietnam War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the presence of authoritarian regimes in its ranks. Still, fear of the Soviet Union during the Cold War helped unite its members regardless of their discord. The greater the perception of the threat, the deeper the unity.
When the Eastern Bloc collapsed in 1989, the alliance that was created to keep the Soviets, Germans, and Americans out of Western Europe lost its raison d’être. Disagreement within NATO persisted, leading to enlargement to the East and the neighborhood and several military deployments in the greater Middle East.
In 2001, 24 hours after the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington, NATO invoked Article 5, the cornerstone of its collective defense, for the first time in its history. But fighting asymmetric wars outside its long-defined area of operation, especially in Afghanistan, proved an ungrateful effort and a source of tension.
For the past 30 years, NATO has still managed to maintain its unity, undergoing various cosmetic and structural surgeries to regain its vitality. It even nearly doubled its membership from 16 to 30 members.
The alliance has repeatedly overcome internal discord through adaptation and commitment. It will do so again on June 14 in Brussels, hoping to improve its appearance and performance in an increasingly competitive world. Biden’s high popularity in Europe compared to Trump will certainly help.
NATO will once again rely on the fact that there is more to uniting its members than to dividing them.
In my opinion, this protects their economic and financial interests in the first place. With a population of nearly a billion people and half of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP), NATO has decidedly been the military arm of a privileged club of Western capitalist democracies.
Today, the alliance faces two major strategic challenges: the rise of China and the resurgence of Russia, which pose cyber, space, and geopolitical threats, including to the “global south,” where Beijing and to some extent Moscow are expanding.
Other issues that have been raised in public, such as climate change, human security and development, etc. they are shop windows. This is not because they are not important (for sure), but because they are more G7 than NATO material.
But since Trump’s psychological breakup, some Europeans are said to be wary of being overly dependent on the U.S. for their security, as they have done for the past seven decades.
Minor NATO members have been especially traumatized by the president’s erratic behavior, while higher continental members, such as France and Germany, have been cautious but also intelligent in their reactions. They are exploiting the American debacle to demand greater European security autonomy and a more egalitarian partnership with the US.
They have also adopted a more nuanced and less dramatic view of the challenges posed by Russia and China than the Biden administration. They prefer to avoid Cold War rhetoric and emphasize compromise over confrontation with Russia and Beijing.
And they have a point.
Russia, as former President Barack Obama said, is today nothing more than “a regional power” whose warlike actions are an expression of weakness rather than strength.
It is better to contain Russia through political and economic compromise than to alienate it through strategic confrontation.
And while rising China presents a new geopolitical puzzle, it is no Soviet Union.
Despite its enormous economic power and strategic ambition, it does not advocate an alternative view of the world. And since joining the World Trade Organization in 2001, Beijing has integrated its economy into the Western-led world economic system and enjoys a huge advantage derived from its trade with the West.
Europeans see China as an economic competitor or, at worst, a rival, and settle for a multipolar world. But Washington is looking at China with another lens. He believes that China is determined to become an Asian hegemon and insists on containing its rise before becoming the world’s leading power. The United States wants to remain the undisputed superpower in the world.
This means that the Biden administration will have to enchant and intimidate its divided but prosperous European partners so that they are left behind.
In fact, part of the pressure is already bearing fruit, as Europeans are moving further and further away from China, especially in the fields of technology and investment, and the UK has demonstratively deployed an aircraft carrier to the sea of South China.
In practice, NATO will try to adopt rather than a new strategic assessment in line with its 2010 strategic assessment, but with a greater focus on policy cohesion and coordination. Europeans will demand greater parity and pressure Washington to act less unilaterally as it did under Trump or when the Biden administration decided to withdraw from Afghanistan with virtually no real consultation until the last moment.
For its part, Washington will continue to insist, as it has done in recent decades, that Europe must pay a bigger voice to NATO and show a greater commitment to its collective security. It can also lead to the Asian powers, Japan and South Korea, under the pretext of “defending democracy” in East Asia.
Easier said than done? May be.
But the biggest challenge is to define NATO’s new role and mission in light of Washington’s insistence on using the alliance to do what it takes to maintain US global supremacy, which will surely lead to a new cold war with China.
Biden wants to use the NATO meeting to rally the alliance behind America ahead of his June 16 summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, knowing all too well that China is watching closely.
The impetus to expand the alliance towards Ukraine and Georgia or to extend its projection of force, in the future, is sure to provoke both Moscow and Beijing and bring them closer together, with a serious ramification for global security.
Biden should take care of what he wants; it may come true.