Due to the Ukraine crisis we are currently coping with, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – NATO – is now under the global spotlight, and it is expected to take proper actions in order to deal with major worldwide tensions. NATO is an alliance of political and military nature, whose main aim is the guarantee of the freedom and security of its members. On the one hand the significance of the role the organization plays is undeniable, on the other hand the effectiveness of NATO is challenged mainly by the fragmentation of points of view on crucial global issues, and it has been put into doubt when critical mistakes were made in the Afghanistan’ operation.
Its current membership is composed of 27 European countries, 2 North American countries and 1 EurAsian country. It was founded in the aftermath of World War II acting as a rival of the Soviet Union, more specifically, of the Warsaw Pact. Nonetheless after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the need for an organization like NATO was questioned; however, the subsequent joining of countries of the former Eastern bloc might be interpreted as a sort of refuge from the oppressive policy of Russia. Undoubtedly, as time passes, further worldwide issues emerge, e.g. terrorism, natural disasters phenomena, that are taken upon by the organization itself.
The collaboration among the members of the organization is perhaps the most complex challenge that needs to be faced continuously. The main concern that gathers these countries in NATO is the mutual security interests: when entering the alliance countries are made aware of the main fundamental principles i.e. collective defense, meaning that if one member state is attacked, this is considered as an attack against all the members.
Despite this, the French President Macron criticized the alliance itself by defining it as ‘brain dead’ due to the lack of cooperation among the members. At this stage, the Turkish President responded harshly to Macron by suggesting him ‘have his own brain death checked’. Fortunately, this kind of tension can be easily solved through diplomatic means; much unlike when it comes to global matters where it is not easy to find a fair compromise.
The first concern is terrorism. In 2019, Erdogan encouraged NATO leaders to recognize the Kurdish People’s Protection Units as a terrorist movement, and therefore to take actions against it. Initially there was not a huge consensus, but a great skepticism regarding this initiative. Furthermore, Erdogan threatened the other parties to block plans for the increase of defenses in the Baltic regions against Russia.
A second issue on which NATO members have opposing points of view is Russia. According to Macron, building good relations with this superpower is a way to safeguard European security. However the French idea is not shared by other members like Germany, that are skeptical regarding the commitment of Russia in a fair and transparent cooperation with NATO.
A further factor that challenges the effectiveness of NATO even more is the Resolute Support Mission. The aforementioned is a mission led by the organization in Afghanistan aiming at training the Afghan security forces to provide security in the long-run to the country, and is supposed to remain in force until 2024 as stated in the Security and Defence Cooperation Agreement. However in 2021, troops were gradually evacuated until the remaining ones were withdrawn in August 2021, immediately followed by the attack of the Talibans. According to the public opinion, NATO’s actions in Afghanistan were a failure. The alliance itself admitted that some mistakes could have been avoided; countries like Italy, Germany and Turkey played a crucial role in this operation, making important investments for the success and safety of Afghanistan.
All in all, by taking into consideration both the contrasting variety of positions of the members on worldwide concerns and the critical errors that have been made in the Afghanistan operation, we may wonder whether an alliance that was born for guaranteeing security actually serves its main function and whether it is biased by interests of different nature.
Robert E. Osgood, NATO: Problems of Security and Collaboration, The American Political Science Review 54:1(1960): 106-129. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1952410
Judy Dempsey, The Three Unresolved Issue of NATO, Carnegie Europe, December, 2019. https://carnegieeurope.eu/strategiceurope/80503
Fabrice Pothier, Five Challenges that NATO must overcome to stay relevant, IIS, April, 2019. https://www.iiss.org/blogs/analysis/2019/04/five-challenges-for-nato
NATO website. https://www.nato.int/nato-welcome/index.html
Anonymous, I served with the NATO mission in Afghanistan – it was a bloated mess, The Guardian, August, 2021. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/aug/27/afghanistan-nato-mission-corruption-military-soldier
Turkey threatens to block NATO’s Baltic defence plan over YPG, Al Jazeera, December, 2019. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/12/3/turkey-threatens-to-block-natos-baltic-defence-plan-over-ypg
Stuart E. Gallagher, Assessing the Paradox of North Atlantic Treaty Organization Expansion, Real Clear Defense, July, 2020. https://www.realcleardefense.com/articles/2020/07/24/assessing_the_paradox_of_north_atlantic_treaty_organization_expansion_115492.html
Macron is in a state of brain death, Erdogan says, Al Jazeera, November, 2019. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/11/30/macron-is-in-a-state-of-brain-death-erdogan-says
What is NATO, why does it still exist, and how does it work?, NATO, April, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snXhtOpSXtI