NATO: An alliance out of time

Source: NATO North Atlantic Treaty Organization (via Flickr)

By Sam Tilley

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation was signed on April 4 1949 in the wake of the most devastating global conflict in history. The most basic description of the alliance is that it’s a collective system of defence, designed by proxy to act as a guarantee against any potential invasion from the Communist east. But as the twentieth century gave way to the twenty-first, the threat from the Soviet Union was replaced by different scenarios; scenarios that NATO have yet to adapt to. 

First and foremost, the collective defence mechanism entrenched within the treaty is now completely out of date. Article 5 of NATO is the clause that stipulates that if a NATO member is the victim of an armed attack, all members will consider it as an act of violence against all of them. It was first triggered in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in 2001 by the United States who argued that the terror attacks were organised from outside the US.

The recent actions of the United States in Northern Syria also highlight the danger of the actions of NATO members. For reference, the United States (a NATO member) withdrew its troops from Kurdish-controlled Syrian territories; allowing Turkey (another NATO member) free reign to implement a ‘buffer-zone’ consisting of the areas previously occupied by the Kurds. Turkey, in cooperation with NATO’s alleged number one problem state Russia, has now begun to remove Kurds from the areas they occupy to widespread international condemnation. The actions of Turkey in particular have highlighted strains between NATO members with countries like France, Spain and the Netherlands imposing arms embargoes on the Turkish. For a military alliance, this is simply not a good look.

Cooperation between NATO members and Russia is far from unprecedented; most famously during the Balkan conflict of the 1990s. However, the cooperation between Turkey and Russia goes against the long standing position of the majority of the alliance of backing Kurdish fighters fighting against both ISIS and the Syrian Government. This highlights the ever growing split between Turkey and the rest of the Western Alliance, heightened in recent years by the domestic actions of President Erdogan and the failure, in the eyes of many NATO members, of Turkey to prevent ISIS fighters from travelling through its territory.

It’s time for NATO to decide on both its position in the world we live in today and the ramifications of continuing to admit Turkey as a member of the alliance.The ever changing nature of global politics has meant that the greatest danger to countries is no longer from their counterparts. No longer does the biggest danger to Western Europe emanate from Moscow, or from Beijing, or Tehran or even Washington. Instead, the ongoing threat of global terrorism (whether it be from an Islamist, far right or far left source), the climate crisis and the constant stirrings of another recession are all far more plausible dangers to the member nations of NATO than the spectre of the former Soviet Union.

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