The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is trying to find its way back to “normalcy” after four years of tragedy under the restless leadership of former US President Donald Trump.
This will prove to be a difficult task. NATO appears to have lost its mojo after Trump distorted its strategic vision and values and questioned its common fate, albeit rhetorically.
But the advent of the transatlantic Joe Biden breathes life and vitality into the pact, as the American president tries to assure the European allies of the seriousness of his administration to restore confidence and restore harmony.
This is not the first time that the alliance has recovered from an internal crisis.
In fact, over the past few decades there has been a disturbing perception of some sort of NATO crisis or another: a “deep crisis”, a “deepening crisis”, a “deepening crisis”. fundamental ”, a“ general crisis ”, an“ unprecedented crisis ”and even – a“ real crisis ”.
But NATO has always recovered.
Even before the end of the Cold War, NATO had its share of divisions and discord, whether over the Suez Crisis, the Vietnam War, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the presence of authoritarian regimes in its ranks. Yet fear of the Soviet Union during the Cold War helped unite its members regardless of their discord. The greater the perception of the threat, the deeper the unity.
When the Eastern bloc collapsed in 1989, the alliance that had been created to keep the Soviets out, the Germans on the ground and the Americans in Western Europe, lost its raison d’etre. to be. Disagreement within NATO persisted, moving to eastern and constituency enlargement and various military deployments in the greater Middle East.
In 2001, 24 hours after the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, NATO invoked for the first time in its history Article 5, the cornerstone of its collective defense. But waging asymmetric wars outside its long-defined area of operations, particularly in Afghanistan, has proven to be a thankless endeavor and a source of tension.
Over the past 30 years, NATO has managed to keep its unity nonetheless, going through a number of cosmetic and structural surgeries to restore its vitality. It has even almost doubled the number of its members, from 16 to 30 members.
The alliance has repeatedly overcome internal discord through adaptation and compromise. He will do it again on June 14 in Brussels, hoping to improve his appearance and performance in an ever more competitive world. Biden’s great popularity in Europe over Trump will certainly help.
NATO will rely once again on the fact that there is more that unites its members than it divides them.
This, in my opinion, is first and foremost to protect their common economic and financial interests. With a population of nearly a billion people and half of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP), NATO is decidedly the military arm of a privileged club of Western capitalist democracies.
Today, the alliance faces two major strategic challenges, the rise of China and the resurgence of Russia, which constitute cyber, spatial and geopolitical threats, including in the “Global South”, where Beijing and, to some extent, Moscow is growing.
All the other issues that have been raised in public, such as climate change, human security and development, etc. are from the facade. This is not because they are not important – they most certainly are – but rather because they are more of the G7 than of NATO.
But since Trump’s psychological breakup, some Europeans are said to be wary of being too dependent on the United States for their security, as they have been for the past seven decades.
The junior NATO members were particularly traumatized by the President’s erratic behavior, while the older continental members, such as France and Germany, were cautious but also shrewd in their reactions. They are exploiting the American debacle to demand greater European security autonomy and a more equal partnership with the United States.
They also took a more nuanced and less dramatic view of the challenges posed by Russia and China than did the Biden administration. They prefer to avoid Cold War rhetoric and focus on engagement rather than confrontation with Russia and Beijing.
And they are right.
Russia, as former President Barack Obama once said, is today only a “regional power” whose bellicose actions are the expression of weakness rather than strength.
It is better to contain Russia through political and economic engagement than to alienate it through strategic confrontation.
And while rising China presents a whole new geopolitical puzzle, it is not the Soviet Union.
Despite its enormous economic power and its strategic ambition, it does not espouse any alternative vision of the world. And since joining the World Trade Organization in 2001, Beijing has integrated its economy into the Western-led global economic system and enjoys a tremendous boon from its trade with the West.
Europeans see China as an economic competitor or at worst a rival, and are content with a multipolar world. But Washington looks at China from a different perspective. He believes that China is determined to become an Asian hegemony and insists on containing its rise before becoming the world’s leading power. America wants to remain the undisputed superpower of the world.
This means that the Biden administration will have to charm and intimidate its divided but prosperous European partners into supporting it.
In fact, some of the pressure is already paying off as Europeans increasingly distance themselves from China, especially in the areas of technology and investment, and the UK has demonstratively deployed an aircraft carrier in the South China Sea.
From a practical point of view, NATO will sooner or later attempt to adopt a new strategic assessment along the lines of its 2010 strategic assessment, but which will place more emphasis on political cohesion and coordination. The Europeans will demand greater parity and pressure Washington to act less unilaterally as it did under Trump or when the Biden administration decided to pull out of Afghanistan with virtually no real consultation until at the last minute.
For its part, Washington will continue to insist, as it has done in recent decades, that Europe pay to have more of its say in NATO and to show greater commitment to their security. collective. It could also bring the Asian powers, Japan and South Korea, to the fore under the pretext of “defending democracy” in East Asia.
Easier said than done? Perhaps.
But the biggest challenge lies in defining NATO’s new role and mission in light of Washington’s insistence on using the alliance to do what it needs to do to maintain global supremacy in the world. America, which will certainly lead to a new cold war with China.
Biden wants to use the NATO meeting to rally the alliance behind America ahead of his June 16 summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, knowing all too well that China is watching closely.
Lobbying to further expand the alliance in Ukraine and Georgia or to expand its force projection in the future will certainly provoke both Moscow and Beijing and bring them closer, with serious ramifications for global security.
Biden should be careful what he wishes; it can just come true.