This article appeared in The Telegraph on April 18th, 2022. Click here to view the original article.
Commentary on Nato “unity” against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been misplaced. Nato is not unified in seeking Moscow’s defeat, and Kyiv’s memory of the execrable Minsk agreements, imposed with French and German participation, remains strong. Ukraine stays in the fight largely through its own determination and homegrown capabilities such as the missiles that sent the Moskva to the Black Sea floor.
The alliance’s performance on sanctions is scattershot, with results mixed so far and the future uncertain. Military assistance is uneven, though the UK and Eastern European responses have been outstanding. The biggest failure is Joe Biden’s uneven political leadership: weak, often late in coming, grudging and strategically incoherent. Germany, France and others are lagging.
This war is not over, and the negotiations that will ultimately ensue will be tortuous. It is no time for Nato members to pat themselves on the back. Nonetheless, now is precisely the moment for policymakers to consider the alliance’s future. We should not forget that Henry Kissinger’s classic 1965 study was called The Troubled Partnership; it still is, and will be, though for radically differing reasons.
First, the good news. Finland and Sweden seem poised to apply for membership. Public opinion in both countries has shifted dramatically in favour of joining Nato since Moscow’s aggression. These additions would strengthen Western dominance in the Baltic Sea, further isolate Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave, and eliminate an ambiguous grey zone between Nato’s eastern and Russia’s western borders. Other “neutrals” might now also step up. Here’s looking at you, Ireland.
On the negative side are Turkey and France. Turkey’s President Erdoğan is now the least-allied of Nato allies. Notwithstanding Kyiv’s effective use of Turkish-supplied drones, Ankara’s acquisition of Russian S-400 air-defence systems risked compromising the critical F-35 program, thereby endangering other Nato allies.
If Turkey’s 2023 elections are free and fair, Erdoğan’s defeat, which is entirely possible, would significantly repair the damage he has done. If he wins, his neo-Ottoman Middle East ambitions (and other troublesome behaviour) will remain threatening.
France, facing a potentially close presidential run-off, is problematic, especially given Emmanuel Macron’s persistent efforts to enhance the European Union’s military capabilities in ways that undercut Nato. Marine Le Pen has gone further, calling explicitly for a second French withdrawal from Nato’s integrated military command. None of this is constructive.
Most important is the German question. Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s pledge to invest €100 billion in defence, including purchasing 35 nuclear-capable F-35s, is helpful. Nonetheless, much more is needed to upgrade Germany’s pitifully inadequate military capabilities, and to ensure Scholz’s dramatic commitment is sustained over time. Will Germany revert to its Cold War resolve to maintain adequate national defences, or will it relapse into pretending it is too dangerous to be trusted with guns?
Central to Nato’s future is the appropriate division of labour with the EU. For Macron and others, increased EU political integration is the highest goal, leading them to advocate increased EU military capabilities and related programs that impinge on Nato responsibilities. For example, the EU made its first ever budgetary expenditure for military assistance to Ukraine, even as Nato was making precisely the same allocation decisions. This was no coincidence.
Do these integration-obsessed leaders believe the EU has no other problems worthy of their attention? Is this why they focus on expanding EU mission creep into Nato territory? For America, such efforts are daggers pointed at Nato’s heart. If anyone truly believes the EU treaty’s mutual defence clause is equivalent to Nato’s Article 5 – good luck to them. Let’s remember, the EU has only one nuclear-weapons state, whereas Nato has three. Insistence that Europe be responsible for its defence risks undercutting American support for Nato, leaving Europe protected primarily by politicians’ rhetoric.
Better leadership in Washington, new alliance members, renewed German (and even, post-election, Turkish) Nato commitments, and a substantially enhanced British role, exemplified by its current performance, would all be major pluses. Moreover, the growing threat from China should brace every Nato country for global threats to their security. History still has plenty in store for Nato if it can vindicate itself by performing successfully in today’s Ukraine crisis.
John Bolton is a former US national security adviser