Nato heads of government (front row L-R): Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, US President Donald Trump and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (middle row L-R) France’s President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir, (top row L-R) Netherland’s Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Lithuania’s Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis, Portugal’s Prime Minister Antonio Costaa and Montenegro’s Prime Minister Dusko Markovic pose for the family photo at the NATO summit at the Grove hotel in Watford, northeast of London on December 4, 2019.
ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images
LONDON — As NATO members gather in the U.K. to celebrate 70 years since its inception, there are pressing questions about the organization’s future and its relevance on the global landscape.
Leslie Vinjamuri, the head of the U.S. and the Americas Programme at think tank Chatham House, believes there will now be “several years of grappling” to reform the military alliance.
She added that one of the main issues is that the institution is not set up to deal with the current geopolitical landscape. NATO was created in the aftermath of World War II with the overall aim to protect its members against any threats posed by the Soviet Union.
But the rise of the world’s second-largest economy, China, has posed new challenges to the West and trade and political tensions between Beijing and Washington have come to the fore in the last two years. The disagreements have involved the tech sector with the U.S. taking steps to ban the Chinese firm Huawei from selling its technology in the United States.
U.S. officials have expressed concern over the company’s links to the Chinese government and the security threat it could pose — something which the Shenzhen-based tech firm has denied. This issue has sparked division within NATO allies, with Germany and France taking a different stance to the U.S. administration.
“NATO is at a crossroads,” Agathe Demarais, global forecasting director at the research firm The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), highlighted to CNBC Monday.
Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron said in an interview published last month that the alliance was currently experiencing “brain death.” His comments sparked a wave of criticism from other NATO countries and Trump told reporters in London Tuesday that Macron’s words were “very, very nasty” and “very insulting.”
“The relationship between the U.S. and the EU is under strain in a number of sectors, and the military one is only one of them,” Demarais from the EIU, told CNBC Monday.
Trump has criticized his NATO allies on different occasions for not respecting the 2% of GDP (gross domestic product) contribution rule. At the same time, some European leaders have grown hesitant to the U.S.’ commitment to the organization, given the president’s “America first policy.” Their division became even more evident when Trump decided in October to withdraw troops from northeast Syria, without consulting NATO allies.
“An implosion of NATO, should it take place, would not happen in the short term. Instead, a gradual deterioration in the levels of trust between NATO members is the more likely scenario,” Demarais from the EIU told CNBC.
“This is especially the case with Turkey, which has recently bought Russian-made defense equipment that is not interoperable with NATO standards,” she added. Turkey joined NATO in 1952 — three years after it was created. However, some NATO members are worried about Turkey’s ties with Moscow.
For NATO to maintain its relevance, it will need to strengthen the ties among its own members and extend its agenda, Leslie Vinjamuri, from Chatham House, told CNBC.
“We can’t afford to wait (to see NATO reforming) but imagine having to start from the beginning. Working with what we have is easier,” she said.
Athanasia Kokkinogeni, a Europe senior analyst at consulting firm DuckerFrontier, also told CNBC that NATO’s future is likely to include a broader range of aims.
“NATO will need to evolve in the depth of its cooperation, its objectives, and financial contributions of its members to reflect a less dominant U.S. role,” Kokkinogeni said.