How NATO has been revitalized by Ukraine crisis
French President Emmanuel Macron stated not so long ago that NATO was experiencing “brain death.” He made the comment in an interview he gave in October 2019 to the British weekly newspaper The Economist. His assessment was partly based on the moody way then-US President Donald Trump used to conduct foreign policy and how he trivialized the European NATO countries. On the critical issue of the famous Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which constitutes the core of NATO’s deterrence, Macron wondered: “What will Article 5 mean tomorrow?”
However, many things have changed since the outbreak of the Ukrainian crisis and NATO does not look brain dead any longer. This is probably because many European countries feel that the threat is at their doorstep.
In order to better figure out what NATO might do in the case of a military confrontation, let us have a closer look at the text of Article 5. It states: “The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them …. will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.”
The article clearly says that each member country will take “such action that it deems necessary.” This action may be a declaration of war against an attacking country. Or it may be confined to issuing a strong statement blaming the attacking country.
Thanks to the US security umbrella, the European continent enjoyed a long period of stability after the Second World War. Germany benefited the most from this umbrella as it was able to devote its resources to economic development. Apart from the Soviet interventions in Hungary in 1956 and the Prague Spring in the Czech Republic in 1968, there were no major clashes in Europe.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has definitely revitalized NATO. It may continue to further strengthen the alliance, but it may still not regain the vitality of its early decades because international organizations also get older as the years pass by.
The attitude of the European members of NATO varies according to their perception of the threat posed by Russia
The attitude of the European members of NATO vary according to their perception of the threat posed by Russia. The Baltic countries must be feeling more threatened because they restrict Russia’s entry to the open seas. Countries like Spain and Portugal, meanwhile, must be looking at Russia as part of the global power balance. Romania and Bulgaria believe that the threat may be knocking at their door.
Turkiye has always been a special case in NATO because, until the dismemberment of the Soviet Union, it was the only country that had a common border with it. As a result, it benefited from NATO’s favor and support.
However, the US has always treated Turkiye as an underdog on which it could impose any foreign policy measure. There was a famous exchange of letters in 1962 between then-US President Lyndon Johnson and Turkish Prime Minister Ismet Inonu. When Turkiye was planning a military operation in Cyprus, Johnson sent a letter saying that, if the operation went ahead, Article 5 of the NATO Charter might not be used if Moscow attacked Turkiye. So, Macron’s misgivings regarding the value of Article 5 had been put to the test as early as 1962.
The US imposed an arms embargo on its NATO ally because of Turkiye’s military intervention in Cyprus. An embargo on its own ally was nothing but a measure that weakened the alliance, but the US did it anyway. The 2019 expulsion of Turkiye from the consortium developing the sophisticated F-35 fighter plane was the most recent step taken by the US against its NATO ally.
Independent of its bumpy relations with Ankara, NATO will definitely emerge from the Ukrainian crisis as a more solid alliance. A new defense architecture is expected after the dust settles in Europe. Germany may emerge as a stronger player. It was said in the early 1950s that NATO was created in order to “to keep the Soviet Union out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.” The same Germany may now become the backbone of Europe’s defense.
The American political scientist of Japanese origin Francis Fukuyama published in 1992 a book titled “The End of History and the Last Man.” He thought that liberal democracies and free market capitalism would become the final form of human government.
Despite Fukuyama, however, we are not close to the end of history.
• Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkiye and founding member of the ruling AK Party. Twitter: @yakis_yasar