A transatlantic debate ahead of the NATO summit

A transatlantic debate ahead of the NATO summit

The next NATO summit that will include the participation of the heads of states and governments of allied countries will be held on July 11-12 in the new NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. It is a critical summit as it coincides with the growing rift between allies on both sides of the Atlantic. If the growing dissent of the United States from the consensus of the alliance allows, there will be important decisions to take on a number of issues.

The majority of allies are worried about the possibility of another crisis during the summit, similar to what happened during the G-7 Summit in Quebec, Canada last month, as a result of U.S. President Donald Trump’s unpredictable outbursts. Trump arrived late to the summit and left early to meet North Korean President Kin Jong-Un. Yet, he managed to alienate his interlocutors with accusations of the duplicity of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his suggestion to re-invite Russia to attend the meetings, in addition to preventing the release of the summit communiqué and imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from traditional U.S. allies and partners.

Also, last year’s NATO summit is still remembered, not by the decisions that were taken, but by Trump’s boorish behavior when he shoved the Prime Minister of Montenegro aside to be at the front of the Allied leaders’ photo op. Thus, this year’s summit will be critical in showing solidarity among members, especially because a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki might follow it. While Russia continues to explore the fissures in the cohesion of the alliance, Trump’s criticisms pour oil to the fire.

The summit is normally expected to address five issues, as confirmed by the defense ministers meeting in June: To strengthen deterrence and defense with a 360 degree approach, to boost security in and around Europe, stronger cooperation with the EU, to modernize NATO to tackle emerging security challenges, and to achieve fairer burden-sharing between the Allies. The last will be Trump’s key theme.

The U.S. president has already sent letters to several NATO allies like Canada, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands to urge them to spend more on their defense. Although Allies had committed to raising their defense spending to 2 percent of their budgets in the Galler Summit in 2014, many members still continue to lag behind the benchmark, and thus Trump continues to criticize them publicly for their failure.

Despite the disagreements, the Alliance has been trying to stand together and to reinforce its ability to respond to existing and emerging security challenges through sharpening its military readiness. The emerging strong presence of NATO in its eastern flank is a result of such desires. Moreover, a new NATO Readiness Initiative (NRI) was finally agreed at the defense ministers’ meeting in early June. The new initiative envisions the deployment of 30 land troop battalions, 30 air squadrons, and 30 warships within 30 days, to be launched by 2020. It is an ambitious project and the result of the latest incarnation of a long debate. 

Closer to home, Turkey is hoping to take on additional responsibilities, including a command structure within the NRI. It has been reported in the Turkish press that Turkey has put forward its 3rd Army Corps Headquarters in Istanbul as the contact headquarters for the NRI. Amid criticisms in Western media and among political circles about Turkey’s growing distance from its NATO membership, the new responsibility, if approved by the summit, would reconfirm Turkey’s commitment to and determined stance by the Alliance. It would also give indications regarding Turkey’s near term foreign and security policy preferences after the recent presidential and parliamentary elections.

Mustafa Aydın, NATO, Turkey