Middle East Perspectives on the NATO Summit

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Views from the Region

July 20, 2018

Members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) met in Brussels this week. As expected, news of the summit was dominated by U.S. President Donald Trump, who castigated NATO member states for failing to adequately invest in their military. Even without Mr. Trump’s online outbursts, some have wondered whether the military alliance can continue to operate as a credible deterrent to hostile powers. In regional commentary there is general consensus that NATO still plays a vital stabilizing role not only in Europe but also in the Middle East. This optimistic attitude toward the alliance is reflected in the various editorials and op-eds below, with each of them hoping for the strengthening of the Euro-Atlantic military alliance, rather than its destruction.

That is the message of a recent editorial by The National, which, while acknowledging NATO’s weaknesses, points out that “NATO remains an indispensable security alliance…. The conditions in which a transatlantic security pact was forged seem too remote to too many people at a time when isolationist nationalism is once again gaining popularity – but it would be a profound mistake, a deadly delusion, to believe that the challenges and threats that necessitated NATO’s formation have dissipated or disappeared…. Despite this history, a serious deficit of trust overhangs NATO. Europeans, operating against the menacing milieu of a resurgent Russia, are anxious that Mr. Trump is more receptive to Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, than Washington’s most steadfast allies. Although Mr. Trump’s demand that Europeans raise their defense expenditure to meet NATO’s guideline of 2 per cent by 2024 is not without merit, there has never been a time more ill-suited to the display of difference.”

Al Ahram’s Abdel Moneim Said, on the other hand, watches with suspicion the U.S. president’s overtures toward Russia: “the European-American alliance, which had been one of the pillars of international relations in the 20th century, sustained a debilitating blow with the rise of Donald Trump to the presidency in the [United States]. Trump sought to drive a wedge into Europe when he differentiated between ‘old’ Europe (Germany, France, Britain and Italy) and ‘new’ Europe (the countries recently emerged from the Soviet Union) …. When Russia and the U.S. convene their summit in Helsinki on 16 July, an already strained Europe will be watching nervously, for fear of U.S.-Russian understandings at the expense of Europe on matters related to Ukraine and other European concerns.”

Writing for the Daily Sabah, Muhittin Ataman sees not just transatlantic, but also European disunity, although he points out that Mr. Trump’s exacerbation of such divisions may very well run counter to long-term U.S. interests: “It seems that Western unity has slowly shattered over the last decade with most Western or Western-dominated international organizations starting to splinter….  It is important to understand that currently there is a division not only between Westerners and non-Westerners, but also between Westerners themselves. Namely, there are many fault lines that divide and alienate Western countries from each other. For instance, there is increasing friction between the relatively robust economies of the North and volatile economies of the South…. Trump continues to push the U.S.’ limits and to cut the branch that his country sits on by alienating and fighting with its European allies.”

That may also be the reason why some in the region, including this Gulf News editorial, have called for a renewal of NATO unity: “Over the seven decades since it was set up by 12 founding nations in 1949, NATO has assured the mutual defense of each of its members, finding strength in its numbers and under the reality for its adversaries that an attack on one was indeed an attack on all…. And as the leaders meet in Brussels now, this history is indeed important to remember. The success of the organization is that its very presence and unity was a source of strength in facing down the might of the Soviet Union…. Since its 2014 summit, NATO members have committed to spend 2 per cent of their GDP on defense by 2024. While living up to that is a source of irritancy in Washington, that itself cannot be a reason to undermine NATO’s unity.”
Mr. Trump’s “America First” attitude toward NATO and other alliances seems unlikely to soften, deepening his personal isolation, according to Daily Sabah’s Gloria Shkurti in a recent op-ed: “While it would be very difficult to speak about a specific Trump doctrine or legacy, Trump’s years in office will be associated with volatility and isolation. Trump’s moody character has led to a volatile domestic and foreign policy, which has resulted in the isolation of Trump not only within the White House but also from his own Cabinet and many world leaders…. In just less than two years in power, Trump has walked away from any possible path that has been designed by most of the American presidents until now. A result of these policies has been his isolation within and outside the U.S. With fewer people by his side and with allies turned into adversaries, Trump’s presidency is questioned more than ever.”

Ali Al-Ghamdi, in an op-ed for the Saudi Gazette, similarly laments the White House’s turn toward isolationism: “Trump also declared that NATO was outdated and cost the U.S. too much money. But later he dramatically changed his stance, saying that he no longer considered it obsolete. This was after NATO members came forward to support his military strike against Syrian chemical weapons facilities. Trump has consistently misrepresented the financial obligations of NATO members, saying that they owe vast sums in dues and stating that the situation was unfair to the people of the United States…. The current U.S. administration pursues harsh policies not only against the enemies of America, but also against its friends and allies, despite the major policy decisions of previous administration.”

The Jerusalem Post’s Dougal Bloomfield opines that European leaders may view the United States as a greater threat to the alliance than its original enemy, Russia: “Prior to meeting NATO leaders in Brussels he sent everyone dunning letters and tweets chastising them for not meeting their financial obligations to the alliance.  He’s right, but handled it ineptly. It is no secret that fellow leaders consider him rude, poorly informed and undisciplined, and worry that he may be a greater threat to NATO than Russia. Many privately suspect that he wants to destroy the western alliance that won the Cold War because he feels Washington would be better off going it alone or in partnership with Russia’s Vladimir Putin. The more Trump isolates America from its allies and the rest of the world, the worse it is for Israel.”

However, some views of the NATO summit still laud an alliance in rude health. At least,  that is the message of an op-ed by Murat Yetkin, writing for Hurriyet Daily News, where he highlights Turkey’s strategic importance in the region as well as its contribution to the alliance: “Turkey holds a key geographic location … by controlling the strategic Turkish straits between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, thus having almost all crises or potential conflicts regarding European security in its neighborhood: Ukraine, Russia, Armenian-Azeri conflict, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Israel and Cyprus—all in the clockwise order. Turkish contribution is expected to include the formation of a new rapid response force against potential threats in addition to existing responsibilities like hosting the headquarters of NATO’s Land Forces, the strategic İncirlik air base, and the early warning radar station of the NATO-operated U.S. global missile shield system.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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