NATO summit underscores durable alliance
The summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, held in Warsaw, Poland, earlier this month, has been generally overshadowed by other news. Competition for media attention regarding Europe has been dominated by the British referendum vote to leave the European Union.
That is unfortunate. NATO has demonstrated productive unity, and summit decisions are positive for international stability, especially over the longer term. Russian aggression in Europe and instability in the Middle East and South Asia were properly priority focus.
Warsaw as site for the summit represents good-sense symbolism, always important in diplomacy, linking the past with the present in useful ways. The invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany in 1939 sparked World War II in Europe.
The Warsaw delegates agreed to commit troops to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania — and Poland. Montenegro was formally invited to join NATO. The nation is in the Balkans, a traditional region of Russian expansionism.
The administration of George W. Bush pursued alliance membership for both Georgia and Ukraine, a strong provocation to Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin responded by invading parts of both countries. Admitting Montenegro avoids a comparable slap in the face, while underscoring the point that NATO today includes Eastern as well as Western Europe.
NATO has also underscored commitment to Afghanistan, confirming direct involvement in that country to 2020. The senior civilian representative of NATO in Afghanistan is a Turkish diplomat, Ismail Aramaz. This is a particularly important point, given Turkey’s crucial front-line position against the Islamic State and Ankara’s sometimes vexed relationship with the rest of Europe.
British voters’ narrow but clear decision to leave the EU has generated alarm, notably among business executives as well as politicians and civil servants. They fear economic instability and even recession may result. So far, these fears have not by realized, except for the relative decline in value of the British pound.
One important neglected point is that Britain’s long-term role as military leader in Europe and the wider Atlantic area will probably be reinforced. Starting with World War I, Britain has encouraged U.S. engagement with Europe, in military and also economic terms. Creation of NATO followed a series of more limited steps, preliminary building-blocks on which the final structure was built.
Article 51 of the United Nations Charter explicitly supports collective self-defense. In March 1947, representatives of Britain and France signed the Treaty of Dunkirk. The main perceived potential threat at that time was Germany. The text of the treaty stated the signatory nations would protect one another from any threat “arising from the adoption by Germany of aggression.”
By then, severe strains were growing between the Western allies and the Soviet Union. In March 1948, the Dunkirk alliance was widened into the Brussels Pact. The resulting Western Union included Belgium, Britain, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, and was a positive precursor to the European Economic Community established in the following decade.
Britain steadily fostered cross-Atlantic military cooperation as the Cold War developed. Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin kept the far left of his Labour Party at bay. He was effective in dealing with Jean Monnet and others in forging the European Coal and Steel Community, and in the formation of NATO. Institutional collaboration was reinforced by positive interpersonal dynamics, starting with Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt in World War II.
In a time of European economic uncertainty, NATO provides promising transatlantic cooperation.
Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of “After the Cold War.”