Is NATO’s ‘collective defense’ still solid? Macron’s words raise doubts

French President Emmanuel Macron cites a lack of strategic coordination between the US and other member states of NATO. (AP)
Updated 09 November 2019

Is NATO’s ‘collective defense’ still solid? Macron’s words raise doubts

  • Relations between European NATO members and the US have been soured recently by America’s decision to withdraw troops from northeastern Syria without consulting or warning other members

JEDDAH: In an interview published on Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron told The Economist that NATO is suffering “brain death.” He cited a lack of strategic coordination between the US and other member states, and Turkey’s “uncoordinated aggressive action” in Syria as two of the symptoms.
Turkey’s actions in particular, he said, raised questions about the “collective defense” agreement stipulated in article five of NATO’s founding treaty, under which an attack on one member is viewed as an attack on all members. What would happen, he asked, if the Bashar Assad regime decided to retaliate against Turkey over its incursion into Syria? “Will we commit ourselves under it (Article 5)? It is a crucial question,” he said. The article has only been invoked once before, in response to the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.
During Turkey’s fortnight-long incursion into northern Syria, Macron called on Ankara to cease its attacks immediately and criticized NATO’s failure to respond to what he called Turkey’s “crazy” offensive. France also suspended arms sales to Turkey.
Questioning NATO’s commitment to the protection of a member state demonstrates how disapproval against Ankara has grown, with some prominent members of the alliance already turning their backs on Turkey. Turkey has the second-largest standing military force in NATO, after the US, and has been a member of the alliance since 1952.
But statements such as Macron’s may push Ankara to reassess its defense needs in regards to growing regional security threats, and to procure alternative mechanisms — such as the Russian-made S-400 air defense system, so that it is not relying solely on one side.
Relations between European NATO members and the US have been soured recently by America’s decision to withdraw troops from northeastern Syria without consulting or warning other members. US President Donald Trump’s threat to “moderate” the US’ economic commitment to NATO —  which accounts for around 70 percent of the alliance’s military expenditure — if members failed to honor their current pledge of spending 2 percent of their GDP on defense has also raised the hackles of some NATO members, and caused some observers to question the solidity of the 70-year-old alliance.
“Macron’s statements are not to be taken too literally,” Sinan Ulgen, chairman of the Istanbul-based EDAM think tank and a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, told Arab News. “His goal is to convince European nations to spend more on defense and to build up European capabilities. The alarmism about NATO is designed to emphasize this message.”
Ulgen also noted that establishing a European defense structure able to replace NATO may not be a realistic goal, especially given the likelihood of the UK’s exit from the European Union. However, the former diplomat added that he does not believe Turkey has a realistic alternative to NATO as an ally.

HIGHLIGHT

Questioning NATO’s commitment to the protection of a member state shows how disapproval against Ankara has grown.

“For Turkey, bilateral ties with the US will matter more in terms of how Ankara evaluates the future contributions of NATO to Turkey’s national security,” he said.
Macron’s comments prompted reaction from NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who emphasized the critical importance of NATO as a strategic partnership, while stressing that it needed to “grow and change” or risk becoming “ineffective or obsolete.”
Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara office director of the German Marshall Fund of the US, a think tank, believes there is no question that NATO has the means and the will to provide security guarantees to all member states.
“What we are seeing today is the result of years of complacency and different perspectives on the nature of the threats member states are facing,” he told Arab News. “Despite multiple tensions between different members of NATO, the transatlantic alliance is still the central pillar of Turkey’s security strategy and this is not about to change any time soon.”
However, Unluhisarcikli suggested, Turkey does not see NATO membership and ties to the alliance’s adversaries such as Russia to be mutually exclusive, which is the underlying reason behind the current issues Turkey has with other NATO members.
Not all members, though. For Luxembourg, at least, Turkey would certainly be able to invoke article five if its troops were attacked by the Syrian regime’s forces.
“In that case, NATO would have to step in to assist Turkey,” Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn told German radio station Bayerischer Rundfunk on Oct. 14, adding that that assistance would not necessarily be military in nature as the alliance would look to “restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.”


Air quality sinks to ‘severe’ in haze-shrouded New Delhi

Updated 12 November 2019

Air quality sinks to ‘severe’ in haze-shrouded New Delhi

  • The air quality index reached about eight times the recommended maximum
  • The smoke from fields mixes with vehicle emissions and construction dust, making New Delhi the world’s most-polluted capital

NEW DELHI: A thick gray haze blanketed India’s capital on Tuesday, with authorities attempting to reduce the pollution by sprinkling water to settle dust and banning some construction.
The air quality index exceeded 400, considered “severe” and about eight times the recommended maximum, according to the state-run Central Pollution Control Board.
Buildings and monuments in New Delhi were largely obscured by the haze and residents complained of health effects.
“We can’t breathe properly. My eyes are burning,” said Urmila Devi, who lives in Ghaziabad, one of the capital’s most polluted areas.
Favorable winds had briefly halved the level of pollutants, but winds blowing from the northwest carried air-borne particles from burning crops in Punjab and Haryana states to New Delhi, leading again to high levels of pollution, according to the government’s air quality monitoring system, SAFAR.
Air pollution in northern India peaks in the winter due to smoke from agricultural fires. Farmers say they are unfairly criticized and have no choice but to burn stubble to prepare their fields for the next crop.
The smoke from fields mixes with vehicle emissions and construction dust, making New Delhi the world’s most-polluted capital.
Rising pollution levels have also irked foreign visitors, with some saying they plan to cut short their trips because of health concerns.
“We are in the capital of India. The government should put more effort into tackling this problem,” said Rijil Odamvalappil of Abu Dhabi, who was visiting New Delhi with his wife.
Some residents say the pollution is so bad that it should be the most important issue for the government.
Pollution controls have been imposed, such as sprinkling water from high-rises and banning some construction to settle or avoid dust, but the capital’s poor air quality has continued amid calls for the government to do more to address the root causes.
Restrictions on private vehicles meant to reduce emissions were relaxed on Monday and Tuesday for the 550th anniversary of the birth of Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion.
Doctors in the city of 20 million people say many of their patients are complaining of ailments related to the filthy air they breathe.
New Delhi’s chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, has made fervent appeals on Twitter and in newspaper advertisements for residents to help tackle the pollution problem.
India’s top court last week asked the city government, its neighboring states and the federal government to work together to improve air quality.
World Health Organization data released last year showed India had 10 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities.