23 April 2019

NATO celebrated, in Washington, 70 years / Alliance’s Power is based on common values

Laurenţiu Sfinteş

Image source: Mediafax

After 70 years, again in Washington• The values that come together… • …but also challenges that are shadowing Alliance’s evaluation • For Romania, there is one option only


After 70 years, again in Washington

The 70 years anniversary since NATO’s establishment, with a reunion of the 29 foreign ministers of Alliance’s states, followed by the allied summit and invited North Macedonia’s representative, in the second day, took place in the same conference room where President Harry S. Truman was signing the North Atlantic Treaty in 1949. At that moment, there were 12 states which were committing to a strong political and military cooperation to ensure the security of the Euro-Atlantic space. By the end of this year, there will be probably 30 states - with the acceptation as member, at the London summit, from December, of North Macedonia - which are still united by the common values and objectives.

It was not like the 50 years anniversary, from 1999, in Washington, when the representation  was at the level of heads of states, when president Bill Clinton invited, at his residence, the leaders of the allied states, when three new members, coming from the other part of the former Iron Curtain, Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary joined the Alliance. Now, only NATO’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, met with the American president.

Neither that year’s context could be repeated: NATO was then committed in air military operations in Serbia and the Kosovo province, Russia was barely getting out of the Black Sea with a 20 years old surveillance ship and electronic interception, “Liman”.

No talks then about China.

Values that come together…

Even NATO’s pundits are recognizing that the Alliance has a strong bond, which has allowed its continuity for seven decades in a challenging security environment, still remaining attractive for a series of states, especially from East of Europe. Were the common values, the democratic systems from the member states, the market economy attractive? Was the military threat during the Cold War? Indeed, NATO’s most important achievement, of an alliance with an impressive military constituent, was exactly the avoidance of a new major conflict across the European continent.

It allowed the member states to reach a prosperity level which became an international model and led to the economic disproportion and, eventually, at communism’s collapse. The majoritarian opinion is that common values, more than the joint military force, were the ones that strengthened the Alliance and are still attractive for states like Georgia or Ukraine. A former NATO commander, Admiral James Stavridis, was recently stating that: “History provides few achievements that compare to those seven decades of peace”.

However, after seven decades, neither Europe is the same as it used to be at the end of the fifth decade of the past century, nor Alliance’s round table has 12 chairs only, the world switched from the bipolar phase to  a single power one, now heading, again, towards a new multipolar order, yet the meeting point being outside the Euro-Atlantic space.

Alliance’s relevance in this new environment comes back as topic, alike in the period after Warsaw’s Pac disappearance, and the NATO leaders did not stop from talking about it. This dialogue in internal structures, political and military ones, but also with the media and the public opinion from the member states has allowed Alliance’s adaptation to the new challenges and threats and has maintained the organization as security pillar in the Euro-Atlantic region and not only.

During the Washington anniversary, Alliance’s Secretary General has strengthened one of the aspects which created most of the controversies, but which proved to be also one that has stimulated greater energy from the member states for a larger involvement in the financial support of the common, but also individual, military efforts. At the meeting with president Trump, Stoltenberg has stated that NATO’s members’ military budget will have a supplementary amount, worth of $100 billion, in 2020. Six NATO member states are, at the moment, above the limit of 2% from GDP for the military budget, which Romania did not cross yet, comparing to four years ago, when there were only three states in this situation. The former Norwegian prime-minister is an experienced politician that knows how to approach interlocutor’s favorite topic. For president Trump, despite the nuances induced by other members of the administration or the US Congress representatives, NATO means larger budgetary contributions for the US and unexpectedly lower for the other members of the Alliance.

Actually, the same topic was approached by Stoltenberg in the presentation delivered in front of the Senate and the House of Representatives’ members, stating: "NATO is a strong alliance. But to remain a strong alliance, NATO must be a fair alliance," he said. "In an ideal world, we would not need to spend any money on defense. But we do not live in an ideal world."

In order for things to be clear in terms of why security is so important in a world which is far from the ideal one, the secretary general highlighted, in the speech held on Capitol’s Hill: “We were not able to predict the fall of the Berlin Wall. The 9/11 attacks. Or the rise of ISIS. Or Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea. Since we cannot foresee the future, we have to be prepared for the unforeseen. We need a strategy to deal with uncertainty. We have one. That strategy is NATO.”

…but also challenges that are shadowing Alliance’s evaluation

It was not the only paragraph applauded by the American legislators. Devoutly, Jens Stoltenberg has dedicated an important excerpt to Alliance’s internal challenges, to the existent disputes and mismatches: “We are an Alliance of many different nations. With different geography, history and political parties. Republicans and Democrats. Conservatives and Labor. Independents, greens and many more. This is democracy.”

To journalists’ questions about the internal conflicts, the secretary general answered diplomatically: “For NATO, and for me, and for all Allies, there is no contradiction between deterrence, defence and dialogue”, mentioning also that the bilateral meetings that took place with the occasion of the Washington reunion have allowed discussions on that matter. Diplomacy could not cover, however, the disputes which have emerged in the last period and which, some of them, are more than just simple arrogances or individual national interests. Hence, there are recorded some evolutions which are highlighting certain breaches in the Euro-Atlantic construction:

  • an erosion of the connections which united the NATO states during decades. A series of Western states are insisting on a stronger Alliance “European voice”, meanwhile states from center and east of Europe are embracing an authoritarianism which moves away from Alliance’s initial values;
  • the statements from the beginning of president Trump’s mandate on NATO’s relevance for the US, which have raised the immediate reaction of the US Congress, have questioned the abidance of the commitment foreseen in art. 5. A series of European leaders, among them Angela Merkel, have stated, at that time, that “Europe’s faith is in our hands”;
  • a different estimation of the Russian threats in some European capitals, which made the US vice-president, Mike Pence, mention in the speech delivered during the reunion, that Germany is risking to become “Russia’s captive”, as consequence of its participation at the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Also here, it can be mentioned Turkey’s decision to acquire S-400 systems, risking to block the participation to F-35 fight aircraft creation program, built with some of the NATO partner states;
  • the US including some strictly commercial conflicts to “threats”, which made Washington’s closest partner, Canada, react. The Canadian Foreign Minister, during the reunion, has called “baseless” the inclusion of her country as a security threat for the US after the steel tariffs disputes;
  • different option on China’s technological offensive, recently exemplified by the enlargement projects of the 5G mobile networks. A positive element would be that this aspect was addressed in Washington, the Alliance being opened to discuss in a field which was not on the priorities lists before, the military and civil mobile communications.

And the list goes on.

For Romania, there is only one option

Of course, president Trump’s absence from this reunion was important. Reunion’s host, the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, tried to repair some weakened bridges and promote trust. He succeeded, partially.

The optimistic and diplomatic tone of the NATO Secretary General and the concerns of some of Alliance’s members are still present in an debate environment which works, which asks questions and seeks answers to our greater problem: the security and defence of the democratic values.

Maybe we do not need nothing but a tuned agreement on a series of current fields: challenges’ prioritization, the eliminations of capabilities shortcomings and a better coordination of the national plans with NATO’s - for the Alliance to remain equally relevant in the decades to come.

As for states alike Romania, which celebrate 15 years since joining NATO, the option for this status did not and does not have alternatives. The region we are positioned in does not give us too many options. And if we choose the democratic values, the market economy and human’s rights protection  there is only one. NATO’s presence is here, in East of Europe, at the Black Sea, reaffirmed during the Washington reunion, for us, it is the only proper answer, the only one to how we ensure our national security, “not to fight, but to deter, not to attack, but to defend”, according to NATO’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, synthetic and conclusive phrasing.