NATO Alliance is missing a grand strategy, says scholar
There are fundamental disagreements among member countries on the priorities of NATO, which overshadowed last week’s summit marking the alliance’s 70th anniversary, said a scholar.
Turkey has become a symbol of the crisis, but the disagreements within the alliance are related to the broader structural problems within NATO, according to Evren Balta of Özyeğin University.
As we are marking the 30th year after the fall of the Berlin wall, we see more walls erected in Europe. The end of the Cold War was declared as the triumph of liberal democracies, yet we see the rise of illiberal democracies. What went wrong?
With the fall of the Berlin wall, many people believed that another dark chapter in human history was finally closed. After 30 years, it seems that it wasn’t. We lost many of the common values of the Cold War period. We ended up with an economic system that creates extreme inequality and social exclusion.
You are talking about the negative consequences of globalization.
I would even say hyper globalization that created a lot of losers especially in the advanced economies and destroyed all the safety nets that might compensate for such losses.
The geographical center of socialism was basically Europe. With the fall of the socialist system, there was this immense pressure for rapid economic and political reform.
This has become detrimental to social inclusion.
The post-socialist countries in Europe had to build a capitalist system in no time without private property and in fact, without capitalists. The transition to capitalism happened in the context of pervasive corruption and cronyism. These states also had to build democratic systems without functioning institutions and political party systems. Transition to democracy then happened in the context of ineffective governance and with lots of problems.
These emerging and not yet consolidated liberal democratic states of Europe had become the new members of the liberal international order. Obviously, this was thought of as a huge success in the 1990s and even as the end of history. But looking back, it also had its own costs. The liberal order lost its core and its soul. There you can find the seeds of current soul searching.
Let’s talk about Turkey in the post-Cold War period. Turkey’s transition to the liberal economy started in the late 1980s so in the 2000s, it looked in a good shape with record levels of growth.
This is not only true for Turkey, and in fact, as the data shows, the winners of globalization are the middle classes of developing economies while the losers are the middle classes of the advanced economies. So, like the middle classes of some other developing countries such as India and Brazil, Turkey’s emerging middle classes benefited from globalization. Turkey benefited from the post-Cold period also in the political sense. The euphoria of liberal democracy and the primacy of multilateralism immensely affected Turkey’s political climate and pushed Turkey towards the West.
In the immediate aftermath of the end of the Cold War, Turkey was worried that it will no longer be considered an essential pillar of Western security. And currently, its perception of threat seems to be no longer shared by its NATO allies. What does the tension at last week’s NATO summit in London tell us about transatlantic security architecture?
The crisis of belonging and the crisis of purpose is not new. It was there in the 1990s. The question then was: “What is the purpose of NATO if the Soviet Union no longer exists?”
Russia was no longer seen as a security threat, and there was a possibility and intention to build a strategic partnership with Russia. There was this firm belief that a stable peaceful climate would endure throughout Europe and the globe. Then, what we have witnessed is a huge expansion of NATO both in its mission and membership. This was an early announcement of success and I would say, an immature expansion. At present, NATO has 29 members. The organization deals with many issues from cybersecurity to disaster prevention and undertakes out-of-area operations in different geographies like Afghanistan and Libya.
So, NATO as well failed to consolidate success?
Yes, this was both a failure to consolidate success and also an inability to define what NATO is. I am referring not to the “brain death” of NATO, but to the soul loss of NATO. What really unites these different members of NATO with different perspectives and diverging interests if there is no longer a common threat? Right now, the United States is totally disinterested in the provision of European security, and Europe is very confused about what constitutes a major threat to European security.
Turkey has taken center stage in the last NATO summit: Can it be seen as a member that exacerbates this crisis?
I think the problem is much larger than Turkey. In the past, even during the Cold War, individual countries including Turkey had many problems within NATO. But what is happening is more than a disagreement between Turkey and NATO. Take the problem of Russia, for instance: Turkey has become the symbol of the crisis, but there is tremendous disagreement within NATO members on how to deal with Russia. There is even tremendous disagreement within the U.S. administration on how to engage with Russia. There is then the problem of how to deal with China. You also have fundamental disagreements on the priorities of NATO and over what constitutes a terrorist threat. In that regard, too, Turkey has become a symbol of the crisis. But all these problems, in fact, are related to the broader structural problems within NATO.
So, is the problem of the lack of consensus on threat perceptions?
What is missing is a grand strategy. Who pays, who leads and who adjusts? For every organization, you need to answer these three questions. The member states have diverging answers to these questions. They even debate whether a security community as broad as NATO is useful or even needed. Some European states, including France, want to build a thicker version of such a community with exclusive membership.
Turkey has seen tremendous rapprochement with Russia. In view of Turkey’s decision to purchase the Russian weapons system, does that mean that Turkey no longer would want NATO to see Russia as a threat?
I think in general, not just Turkey but the transatlantic community needs to decide whether Russia is a threat or not. For example, there is tremendous cooperation going on with Russia in Syria under the disguise of “Russia as a threat.” Europe needs a long-term perspective in terms of how to engage with Russia. There are many European Union member states with close and ever-deepening ties to Russia. The question of how to engage with Russia, both economically and politically, is the key to the future of Europe.
Macron is also advocating engagement with Russia.
That is true. And if the way in which the EU engages with Russia changes, what we have been talking about as a major structural shift in Turkey’s foreign policy could become passé.
*Evren Balta is a senior scholar at Istanbul Policy Center and an associate professor of international relations at the Faculty of Social Sciences at Özyeğin University. Her main research interests include political violence, security, Turkish foreign policy and politics of identity. She holds a Ph.D. in political science from The Graduate Center, CUNY (2007), a master’s degree in sociology from Middle East Technical University (1999) and an MIA from Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs (2001).
She is the author of “Age of Uneasiness: Essays on Violence, Politics and Belonging and Global Security Complex.” She is also the editor of “Introduction to Global Politics” and co-editor of “Military, State and Politics in Turkey” and “Neighbors with Suspicion: Dynamics of Turkish-Russian Relations.”