Last month, the French Press Agency published a field report on the International Legion for the Defense of Ukraine, which includes foreign fighters who have voluntarily joined Ukrainian armed forces in the fight against Russia’s invasion. The agency’s reporter met a former U.S soldier stationed on the front lines in Kharkiv, who sought help in regard to the fighters” critical situation there. However, his message was addressed neither to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy nor to the NATO. Instead, it was addressed to a person. “Elon Musk, if you can hear me, we need help,” said the American soldier in his message to Tesla’s CEO.
In his appeal, the volunteer fighter seemed to have forgotten that NATO even exists. And he might not be the only one among his colleagues, with this way of thinking. Not much is said about how people like him, who live in the shadows of the mainstream media, think; taking into account that NATO has held together not due to strategic necessity , but rather because it is an outdated institution surviving into modern times.
Obstructing New Pathways
Cold War security and military institutions, such as NATO, which still function with the post-war 1949 mentality, pose a challenge to the new directions in Western politics, and in the US specifically. Some diplomatic, security, and military departments in NATO member states, including US, still prevent any reduction in the alliance’s role in the international arena, even when it seems that NATO is no longer needed strategically. NATO’s lack of relevance was established in the 2010 Strategic Concept, which referred to Russia as a “strategic partner,” as well as in the 2014 military intervention to fight ISIS. The 85-country international coalition, which included NATO members, wasn’t formed under the alliance’s umbrella, as the latter is limited to Turkey’s obstructionist role. While the mentioned mission required the coalition to take measures that Ankara considered incompatible with its national security due to the coalition’s partnership with the Syrian Democratic Forces.
Last May, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, ahead of the alliance summit in Madrid, said that the new strategy will not consider Russia aa a “strategic partner”. Stoltenberg argued that “since 2010, the world has changed radically. That must be reflected in the new Strategic Concept.”
Still, one shouldn’t underestimate the huge bureaucracy which relies on Cold War institutions in shaping today’s policies in the west. Or in other words, its attempt to hinder new policies carrying international implications unless they conform to Cold War rules, such as NATO. In November 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron seemed to be convinced that this is the case following the Turkish military aggression (Operation Peace Spring) which resulted in the occupation of Serê Kaniyê and Girê Spî. At the time, Macron warned that NATO no longer has a strategic function and has turned into a tool for Ankara in the Middle East. He went further in stating that “What we are currently experiencing is the brain death of NATO.”
Macron criticized the alliance again in June 2020 as he condemned the Turkish navy’s interception of a French frigate participating in NATO operations in the Mediterranean. At the time, Turkish media launched a campaign against the French president, publishing reports linked to Macron’s remarks on Turkey’s intervention in Libya and the Eastern Mediterranean. Anatolia News Agency published interviews with experts whose views fell in line with the Turkish state’s narrative – namely that France’s repeated criticism of NATO was an attempt by Paris to undermine the alliance, after the latter rejected its alleged endeavor to be the “sole” power responsible for Europe.
When it comes to interests, Turkey is the country that benefits the most from NATO, whether in its war against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), immunity against its constant harassment of other member states, blackmailing other nation-states such as Finland and Sweden from joining NATO or through the installation of Patriot missiles at the Incirlik base in southern Turkey. A fragmented NATO serves Turkish aspirations to use the alliance against non-NATO countries and groups which Turkey labels as enemies. Indeed, NATO, and political circles associated with it, seem keen to create opportunities that provide a cover for Turkey. This cover, or umbrella, is categorized as Cold War related: Wherever Russia is present; in Libya, Syria, Armenia, or Africa, there are always Cold War cartel-style deals.
NATO supports Turkey’s expansionist policy, in accordance with Cold War rules, in regions where Turkish troops are deployed as part of a quota distribution understanding with Moscow. In other words, Turkey plays a balancing role in overlapping arenas with Russia. On this basis, NATO still considers the criminal Syrian militias affiliated with Turkey as vital for its mission. During the invasion of Afrin in 219, for example, Turkey worked with a range of jihadist organization including Al-Qaeda, Fatah Al-Sham, ISIS and Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham amongst others. And although there isn’t any official statement supporting this claim, it goes without saying that Cold War mentality is driven by actions rather than statements.
Contrary to its members, NATO itself refrained from condemning Turkey’s occupation of Serê Kaniyê and Girê Spî which resulted in the displacement of more than 300,000 civilians. This incident went unnoticed and raises a big question mark: How would member states of an organization (including the US which, in practice, sponsored the Turkish occupation through former President Donald Trump and opposed it through its institutions) condemn the Turkish operation, while the general secretariat welcomes it? Such inconsistency at best and hypocrisy in NATO’s approach to the Kurds should be worrying. Two days after Erdoğan launched the operation on October 9th, 2019, Stoltenberg made the following comments at a presser with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu:
– “Turkey has made a very big contribution to defeating ISIS, and NATO has used Turkish military bases to fight ISIS, and therefore we support Turkey in its fight against terrorism.”
– “Turkey is helping to protect stability in the region, conducting a military operation and fighting terrorism.”
– “Turkey is one of the NATO countries most affected by the threat of terrorism, and it is the country that receives the most refugees.”
If we compare NATO’s positions with those of the main member states, we will find a major gap. This gap leads us to a ask a question, not only in a context related to Turkey, but also rather on the whole nature of this old classical institution which dates to a geopolitical terrain over 6 decades ago. The question is: Who sets NATO’s policy?
A World in Flux
The Russian invasion of Ukraine granted the alliance the tools it needed to shift from its “clinical death” status, right into the furnace of battles. After years of clinging to the spectrums of the old world – that of the Soviet Union and the socialist bloc – NATO, as an institution, reestablished itself as an unshakable defensive wall for the “Euro-Atlantic” sphere.
At the Madrid summit last June, NATO leaders adopted the “Strategic Concept,” a framework that outlined the organization’s goals and objectives for the next decade, and was last revised in 2010. According to the Concept, the leaders agreed on a new security doctrine that can be considered a reversal of the previous doctrine. The new doctrine states that Russia poses the “greatest and most imminent threat” to the alliance, which no longer classifies it as its strategic partner. In a similar – and yet very different – vein, the alliance views China’s policies, which tend to use force and threats, as a challenge to NATO’s interests, security, and values. so, according to the new doctrine: Russia is a direct threat while China is merely a challenge.
When reviewing NATO’s intercontinental strengths, one can see that the Pacific region forms the alliance’s soft spot. Thus, NATO seems unwilling to engage itself in regions that are beyond its sphere of influence. In this context, Russia represents an ideal foe, as it ensures the preservation of NATO’s functions, unlike China. The latter’s classification as a threat will mean shifting the focus to a new zone – the Pacific Ocean – that exceeds its ability and competence in the short term, taking into account that NATO does not have the required structure to cement its presence in this region. And as Washington seems to be aware of this important fact, it is working on building new alliances in the Pacific Ocean and East Asia apart from the NATO.
Nevertheless, NATO’s intellectual bureaucracy created a suitable formula, albeit misleading in its content. It classified China, as a supporter of Russia on the one hand and not as a threat to Atlantic hegemony on the other hand. In the following context: “The deep strategic partnership between China and Russia and their attempt to curb the rules-based world order contradict our values and interests.”
This approach comes despite the fact that China is at the forefront of the US strategy to contain Beijing as an emerging global power. In March 2021, the Biden administration submitted the Interim National Security Strategic Guidance, which addresses global security-related issues and US national security priorities. The Guidance states that “China is the only competitor capable of combining its economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to mount a sustained challenge to a stable and open world order.” In the 2021 report China was mentioned 15 times and Russia five only. When mentioning US allies, in regard to facing big challenges, NATO is almost paralleled with other alliances such as “QUAD” (which comprises of Japan, India, Australia, and the US), although they were not formally touched upon due to the fact that they were still in the making. Consequently, the 2021 report defined Australia, Japan, and South Korea among US greatest strategic assets.”
Drowning in the Old World
The NATO establishment is well aware that it doesn’t hold the “number one” position if China is the threat to the US-led liberal order. In this case, NATO cannot be the “champion” in the Pacific Ocean and South China Sea, but it can win the championship if it succeeds in creating the traditional enemy it knows better: Russia. So upon comparing the Interim National Security Strategic Guidance, as well as the US National Security Strategy Document, with the NATO document released recently, one can tell that the alliance does not reflect the American strategy, but rather what serves its functionality as a military bureaucracy. That is why China, in NATO’s strategy, is not seen as an independent power, but only as part of NATO’s perspective of the conflict with Russia. Therefore, the starting point of studying Russia’s invasion of Ukraine should not be February 2022, but rather the date when the need for NATO became obsolete. Accordingly, Moscow’s narrative should not be ignored completely. And with the crisis in Ukraine, NATO has decided to increase its military presence and expand its doorstep by inviting Finland and Sweden to join it; a move Moscow considers “hostile” and “destabilizing,” while Stoltenberg calls it “the biggest reinforcement of our collective defense since the end of the Cold War.”
The US strategy, based on competition with China, has strayed towards the Old World Order and outdated rules as part of a NATO-led operation. It is difficult to prove, through legal arguments, that NATO and the United States are two separate entities. However, proving they are one, on the other hand, is contradicted by their conflicting strategies. It is not so difficult to tell that China and the Pacific have been a US priority since former president Donald Trump’s rule. At the same time, it is quite obvious that NATO, with its 30 members, is a transatlantic alliance not yet familiar with the nature of the conflict in the Pacific. NATO has no physical presence in that region through which it could accomplish the massive task of saving the United States from the need of creating regional alliances that will, with time, replace the Europe-based “old NATO” focused on Russia alone. Therefore, even when the alliance expresses concerns over Chinese activities in the Arctic and Africa (NATO chooses to criticize China in areas where the alliance has the upper hand), Stoltenberg, the head of NATO’s bureaucracy, for example, believes that China’s rise offers “opportunities,” particularly for the economies and trade of member states. Consequently NATO sees it as important to continue to negotiate with China, which is “not a rival to NATO.”
As US administrations, especially those led by Democrats, are swayed by NATO strategies and involved in formulating them, and as they continue to see the world from the alliance’s perspective and cling on to the belief that it guarantees Europe’s dependence and weakens Russia, Washington will lose its last opportunity to a create a balance across oceans as the Atlantic (both the ocean and alliance) is no longer a creator of history. The more Washington becomes immersed in the old world, the more its opportunities to compete creatively with China narrow and conditions for military confrontation become more favorable. Further, so long as Turkey continues to hold NATO hostage and as its flogging stick against the Kurds, the Middle East region remains not only unstable but also subject to birthing more terror groups that would bleed into the US or Europe.