“An Uncertain Message in a Period of Reckless Diplomacy”
For democratic nations to function, prosper, and indeed act as an example for aspiring democracies, democracy requires security and stability for its citizens. NATO, along with its essential military and security functions, stands as the strongest message conveying trust in democratic institutions and cooperation to the citizens of member states and aspiring democracies worldwide. In the second half of the twentieth century, the gradual stabilization of a war-worn West established a new world order built through successive examples of international cooperation. In recent years this intricate system, based on progress and adopted diplomatic principles, has endured numerous points of destabilization throughout the trans-Atlantic alliance. While the truths of this assumed world order could be at a point of re-evaluation due to recent socio-political trends, the fundamental principles remain as crucial as ever. NATO’s role, by design and intent, is to promote a clear message of security and support to democratic societies by presenting the unified position of Western democracies. Amid the multiple and varied roles of NATO, the intrinsic mission of the political and military alliance has been its message, and in today’s world NATO’s message is uncertain.
Uncertainty since the NATO Summit & the Risk of Reckless Considerations
Nearly a year ago the Western democratic order was in a period of disruption highlighted by public results of the G7 summit and the continuous threat of international trade wars. The next test for the norms of international order was the NATO summit of July 11th and 12th hosted in Belgium. Centered primarily on the actions of U.S. President Donald Trump, the world watched with fears of a reoccurrence of the previous disarray between traditional allies and partners. For 70 years NATO has stood as a deliberate action of cooperation and continual efforts in defense of an established Western ideal of diplomatic collaboration between democratic, law-abiding nations. Equally as important as the troop deployments and joint operations, NATO’s power is sustained by the united front amongst its member nations and their leaders. There is an inherent problem with focusing solely on defense spending achievements, or specific command commitments, at the expense of the diplomatic activity for it neglects one of NATO’s most indelible features. What we have recently witnessed results in, at best, mixed messages and indicators which breed divisiveness, and only serves the purposes of anti-democratic parties. Though the conclusion of the NATO conference resulted in a continued business as usual, the message of division and mistrust amongst the member nations further sowed seeds of doubt. As the year came to an end, continued instances of Russian aggression further threatened a fledgling democratic nation in Ukraine. Equally distressing in response, Ukraine’s then President Poroshenko’s decision to impose marshal law prior to an election in which his office was in jeopardy. Founding NATO members and traditional stalwarts of the liberal democratic order continued to publicly question commitments to the organization. Such events highlight the intrinsic role of NATO being unfulfilled, its message meant to spread the principles of democracy beyond its member nations, to help foster the conditions required for democratic institutions to take hold and develop successfully.
Early in 2019, the turmoil that developed in the summer returned as fresh reports continued concerning the private threats of President Trump to leave NATO and more specifically, the work of senior officials within the administration to assure the President would commit to the defining assurance of Article 5. Despite cause for optimism as Berlin supported spending at least 1.5 percent of GDP on defence by 2024, few specific details would be released concerning the actual federal budget. Ola Scholz, German Finance Minister and Social Democrat, spoke negatively of the increase citing a worsening economic outlook. Most recently, however, Angela Merkel seemingly seeking to quell doubts concerning the commitment of Germany, announced “the biggest rise in the German military budget since the end of the Cold war”. Though this will still represent less than the 2 percent per year spending sought, the 47.32 billion Euros represents a ten per cent increase from the year prior.
The World in which NATO Originated: Upholding Democratic Principles
With so much focus today on the EU, concerning trade disputes and extreme political agendas, we risk glossing over the very literal need for the term “reconstruction” in a post 1945 Europe. For a second time, the world had been in a state of total war, and the continent of European had reached the precipice of destruction.
From February 4th to 11th 1945, the leaders of the three allied powers, U.S. President Roosevelt, U.K. Prime Minister Churchill, and U.S.S.R. Generalissimo Stalin met at the Crimea (Yalta) Conference. It was at this conference a new world order was set in motion. The first conclusive action established the creation of a United Nations, as next they addressed the future for a Europe liberated from Nazi oppression. The leaders agreed to policies assisting the newly liberated governments of Europe and a goal to “solve by democratic means their pressing political and economic problems.” Of course, the directed prescription for democratic nations throughout war torn Europe would not protect nations of Eastern Europe from the influence and direct intervention into national politics by the Soviets. The age of imperialism and empires of the Western nations was over, people and nations were imbued with their right to govern themselves, but a new fault line emerged along ideological and political lines, resulting in a new cold war. In response to this perceived ideological battle against creeping communism, the Truman Doctrine was devised. When Turkey and Greece faced internal economic and military insecurity and the threat of internal communist uprising with external assistance, Truman presented to the United States Congress on March 12, 1947 his call to provide military and economic assistance to the Greek Government, and subsequently to Turkey. This doctrine effectively transmitted the message that the “United States would provide political, military and economic assistance to all democratic nations under threat from external or internal authoritarian forces.”
During this period of reconstruction in Western Europe, steps to increase international cooperation were taken in efforts to prevent the destructive actions that lead to the Second World War. One major step towards this goal was the Brussels Treaty. Signed by the nations of Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Britain, the agreement concluded to “cooperate loyally and to coordinate their efforts to create in Western Europe a firm basis for European economic recovery.” This cooperation would hold to the highest of priorities the principles of “democracy, personal freedom and political liberty, the constitutional traditions and the rule of law”. This early step towards multilateral cooperation would become the precursor to not only the European Union, but most immediately, NATO.
Based on the unifying principle of open democratic societies, the need to provide a clear form of protection and stability to the reconstruction of the West would make further integration the obvious action. A partnership was devised among the 12 originating countries: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The North Atlantic Treaty, was signed in Washington D.C. April 4th, 1949. It was there the parties made clear their faith in and protection of the “principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law.” These principles were of utmost intent in the message of this signing. Although Article 5 is most often referenced as the main issue of interest where 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” this safeguard is a strategic means to support an overarching principle, clearly stipulated in Article 2. Specifically specifying the intent of the organization, Article 2 calls for the “strengthening” of “free institutions, by bringing about a better understanding of the principles upon which these institutions are founded”.
In his address to the United States Senate, presenting the treaty for ratifications, President Harry S. Truman, noted the evident truth of the post WWII world that, “The security and welfare of each member of the community depend upon the security and welfare of all.” The treaty, Truman argued, was “clear evidence that difference in language and in economic and political systems are no real bar to the effective association of nations devoted to the great principles of human freedom and justice.”
Proper Considerations for Diplomacy in the Modern World
Facing new influences of anti-democratic groups and autocratic interference, a unified NATO membership can signal that there is optimism for a free people, support from friendly nations, and most important, an example that the struggle and hardships of a developing democracy yields stability.
In June 2018, in a report published by the Canadian Government, the Standing Committee on National Defence presented its summary to the House of Commons that “In today’s highly complex and unpredictable international security environment, the NATO political, military and economic alliance remains important, and continues to provide its 29 member states, which include Canada, with collective security and stability.” This mirrors examples within most member states denoting appropriate recognition of the history and importance of NATO. In Germany, for example, according to a study published as of late 2018, 74% of Germans think they must remain in NATO, with over 50% supporting NATO as the nation’s primary form of security and defense policy. And yet in the numerous examples of singular international issues causing division amongst traditional allies, rarely does the grander recognition of the history and importance of NATO supersede temporary considerations such as trade deals, economic sanctions or political gestures.
In a recent interview with a German publication, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s current mission was apparent. He continues to stress solidarity amongst the member states, amid a myriad of questions concerning not only the tumultuous element of the Trump Administration, but also the shifting political calculations within Europe. “My main message is this”, stated Stoltenberg, “NATO is good for Europe and North America. That’s why we have to stand together.” Speaking to the issue of uncertain times, he further stresses that NATO “is the strongest alliance in history because we change when the world changes.” This is a frequent message of the Secretary General, as in February addressing the Munich Security Conference, Stoltenberg stated, that in such a time of uncertainty there are three essential areas to address, “strong multilateral frameworks”; “strong defence”; and “strong transatlantic cooperation”. Highlighting the need for prioritization Stoltenberg referred to the historic example of Europe, “For centuries in Europe, conflict was our constant companion. The last 70 years of peace have been the exception, and not the rule, We must never take peace for granted.” Unable to avoid the heightened tensions between the long-standing allies, in his address to the United States Congress, he conceded “Questions are being asked on both sides of the Atlantic about the strength of our partnership. And yes there are differences.” Despite these differences, the speech proclaimed, “NATO is an alliance of sovereign nations. United by democracy, liberty and the rule of law.” Notwithstanding the persistent efforts by the Secretary General, the true message of NATO is transmitted by the member states through actions of cooperation, multilateralism, and the bedrock principles of post WWII diplomacy. NATO’s message to emerging democracies has always been this message of assured stability through assured mutual support.
An international atmosphere leading to the diplomatic core and citizens of nations’ trying to interpret the resolve of the traditional Western alliance, specially the actions of the United States, does not promote this stability. A reality we must now consider is that this message must be propagated amongst the citizenry of our most established Western democracies. Speaking about the success of NATO and the state of the Western world 70 years ago is important, but the lesson of history is to act appropriately and considerately today with the knowledge of the past in mind.
The power of NATO is to approach each individual topic of potential conflict between partners in peace, not with reckless short sighted focus, but with diplomatic mindfulness to 1949 and the successes achieved together. This is the power of NATOs message, the example of cooperation in recognition of the greater objective of peace and justice, a message that should be unanimously proliferated by the leaders of NATO member nations today.
The image is in the public domain.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Geopolitics.
Nicholas Sehl, B.A., M.A., is a Historian, Policy Researcher and Ph.D. Candidate at the University of New Brunswick, specializing in Worldview Studies. He has conducted numerous professional community policy research projects in Atlantic Canada.