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NATO Is Dying

Summary:
Last December, NATO commemorated 70 years of underpinning peace, stability, and prosperity on both sides of the Atlantic. But cracks in the Alliance are deepening, raising serious doubts about whether it will reach its 75th anniversary. The time for Europe to shore up its defenses and capabilities is now. MADRID – NATO may be “the most successful alliance in history” – as its secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, claims – but it may also be on the brink of failure. After a turbulent few years, during which US President Donald Trump has increasingly turned America’s back on NATO, tensions between France and Turkey have escalated sharply, laying bare just how fragile the Alliance has become.

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Last December, NATO commemorated 70 years of underpinning peace, stability, and prosperity on both sides of the Atlantic. But cracks in the Alliance are deepening, raising serious doubts about whether it will reach its 75th anniversary. The time for Europe to shore up its defenses and capabilities is now.

MADRID – NATO may be “the most successful alliance in history” – as its secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, claims – but it may also be on the brink of failure. After a turbulent few years, during which US President Donald Trump has increasingly turned America’s back on NATO, tensions between France and Turkey have escalated sharply, laying bare just how fragile the Alliance has become.

The Franco-Turkish spat began in mid-June, when a French navy frigate under NATO command in the Mediterranean attempted to inspect a cargo vessel suspected of violating a United Nations arms embargo on Libya. France alleges that three Turkish ships accompanying the cargo vessel were “extremely aggressive” toward its frigate, flashing their radar lights three times – a signal indicating imminent engagement. Turkey denied France’s account, claiming that the French frigate was harassing its ships.

Whatever the details, the fact is that two NATO allies came very close to exchanging fire in the context of a NATO mission. That is a new low for the Alliance – one that may herald its demise.

Lord Hastings Ismay, NATO’s first secretary-general, famously quipped that the Alliance’s mission was to “keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.” The dynamic obviously changed over the subsequent decades, especially the relationship with Germany. But the broad basis of cooperation – a common perceived threat, strong American leadership, and a shared sense of purpose – remained the same.

Without US leadership, the whole structure is at risk of crumbling. It is no coincidence that the last time two NATO allies came this close to blows – during the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 – the US...

Ana Palacio
Ana Palacio, a former Spanish foreign minister and former Senior Vice President of the World Bank, is a member of the Spanish Council of State, a visiting lecturer at Georgetown University, and a member of the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council on the United States.

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