The North Atlantic Alliance is facing hard times. In the year of its 70th anniversary, on the eve of the anniversary summit in London, the crisis phenomena within the organization became obvious even to an inexperienced observer, despite NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg's attempts to smooth things over. His statement that the unity of the most successful military-political alliance in the entire history is inviolable as ever, amid a blatant skirmish between the leaders of France and Turkey evokes a smile or sympathy, assuming that the case diagnosed by the French President as regards the bloc as a whole, applies to its mere figurehead as well.
Indeed, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, formed in 1949 for purposes of protection against the Soviet Union, has long remained a model of iron discipline and political unity. Perhaps only twice in its history has the Alliance experienced a major disagreement and fragmentation of opinions. For the first time this happened in 1966 when Charles de Gaulle announced the withdrawal of France from the NATO military organization. The second period of disagreement was observed in the late 80's-the early 90's, when after the end of the Cold War, in which NATO declared itself the winner, some members of the bloc proposed to dissolve the organization, as long as the goal was achieved. The debate ended in November 1991 at the NATO summit in Rome, where the new Strategic Concept was adopted, outlining the Alliance's new goals and objectives.
Apparently, the new target-setting without such a powerful mobilizing factor as the USSR, as well as significant changes in the geopolitical situation contributed to the emergence and development of intra-bloc contradictions. Alliance members are getting increasingly divided on the issue of NATO's threats and priorities. This is especially evident in the stances taken by old-timers and newcomers. After the end of the Cold War, 13 countries were admitted to the Alliance following four expansions, which were former Soviet republics and countries of the socialist camp. Poland, the Baltic States and Romania, in contrast to the more restrained Western European partners, pursue a tough anti-Russian policy, try to establish a special relationship with the United States, and come out in a united front on a number of issues, often going flat against the common position.
It should be noted that before the end of the Cold War, Alliance forces did not engage in any armed conflicts. NATO's first official use of military force took place in 1995, and it was the bombing of Yugoslavia. To date, the amount of allied military operations is numbered in dozens, many of them outside the territory covered by the Treaty. At the same time, most of them are conducted upon US initiatives to meet the interests of Washington in the first place. This causes displeasure with its partners, who are being criticized by their countries' opposition and public representatives.
It was America's non-consensus decision to withdraw its troops from Syria that caused such a violent reaction on the part of French President Emmanuel Macron, who said NATO was experiencing its "brain death". The ambitious Frenchman is clearly vying for the role of a new European leader. He revives the idea of creating a European army, considers it necessary to build European security along with Russia, offers to carefully study Putin's proposal for a moratorium on the deployment of short- and intermediate-range missiles in Europe, sharply condemns Turkey's military operation in Northern Syria, doubts the tangibility of Article 5 of the NATO Treaty. Echoing her patron was French Defense Minister Florence Parly, who said that "NATO's solidarity clause is called Article 5, not article F-35". It was France that blocked the admission of Northern Macedonia to NATO, which was planned to be formalized by the London summit.
The pace of crisis phenomena development within the bloc has markedly accelerated after Donald Trump's election as US President, who voiced sharp criticism against his European allies, conceiving that they underpay for their security, virtually piggybacking on Washington. At the same time, Germany caught it especially bad due to its help to Russia with implementing the Nord Stream 2 project and plans to increase purchases of Russian gas. As an ultimatum, Trump demanded that all members of the Alliance increase defense spending to a mandatory 2% of their national GDP. The frightened Europeans promised to mend their ways and initially agreed on a new formula for the allocation of direct expenses for the maintenance of the Alliance mechanism, reducing the US share from 22% to 16% respectively and increasing their own ones, like Germany's 16% as compared to the previous 14.8%.
German Chancellor Merkel is, on the one hand, cautiously objecting to Trump, arguing that the increased US military spending is largely due to the growth of China, whom Washington considers its main rival, but that's not the case for Europe. On the other hand, she fears Macron's ambition, in every possible way restraining the impatient pretender to the throne of the Old World, who cannot wait for her taking well-deserved rest.
The most ardent troublemaker was Turkey. Not only did wayward Erdogan, despite any threats and persuasion, buy Russia's S-400, he also began a military operation in Northern Syria against NATO allies, the Kurds. And when the Alliance opposed the recognition of Kurdish People's Protection Units as terrorist groups, Ankara refused to support NATO's plan to protect Poland and the Baltic states from a possible Russian aggression.
Describing the current posture of affairs in the North Atlantic Alliance, Bundestag Deputy Jürgen Trittin made no secret of NATO's existential crisis and that it turned into a shadow of itself because of internal dissent. As precise as one can be, perhaps. It only remains to be seen how the battle with the shadowboxing by "most successful military-political alliance in the entire history" is going to end.