New Delhi: It’s no secret that the faultlines between the U.S and Europe are growing by the day, but the sharp exchange of words between French President Emmanuel Macron and U.S. President Donald Trump in London recently was ‘testy’ even by current standards. The exchange, which took place after Macron called Nato a ‘brain dead’ organisation, prompting a sharp retort from Trump, showed that even an attempt at public unity was proving too much for world leaders and the transatlantic alliance would continue to bear the brunt.
Macron’s statement has also prompted the question – is Nato relevant anymore? Granted, grumblings about the organisation’s structure have been there between U.S. and European leaders for quite some time now. Former presidents Barack Obama and George Bush too had their run ins with Europe where both repeatedly complained about European leaders not spending their fair share of the defence budget for Nato.
But neither Obama nor Bush ran as roughshod over Europe as President Trump has. From Nato to the G7, the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) and more recently the WTO, all have come up hard against Trump.
Former diplomat Amitav Banerji believes that the state of Nato and other international bodies is symptomatic of a ‘wider malaise in the relationship.’ Banerji who served at the Indian Permanent Mission to the United Nations and then as Political Director for the Commonwealth Secretariat in London says, ‘President Trump’s ‘America First’ policy has affected the traditional convergence of foreign policies between the U.S, and Europe in significant ways. The Iran nuclear deal is a case in point. So is the abandonment by the US of the advocacy of a two-state solution in the Middle East. There is no doubt that the hiatus between the US and Europe on some major policy issues is fundamentally changing the landscape of international affairs. The weakening of Europe as a result of Brexit and other internal challenges is not helping either.’
Coming specifically to Nato, will such factors be enough to pull apart the 70-year-old organisation? Not in the immediate future. As Banerji points out, the need for Nato was emphasised in 2014 by none other than Nato’s former Supreme Allied Commander Admiral James Stavridis who was then quoted as saying that the then Nato summit was ‘the most important one since the fall of the Berlin Wall’ because of multiple crises around the world.
‘Nato was given a new lease of life at the Wales Summit in 2014 after the Russian intervention in Crimea and it is difficult to see it disappearing, notwithstanding the inner tensions. I don’t think we are about to see the end of Nato anytime soon,’ says Banerji
Another big unifying factor for Nato countries is Russian and China adventurism. But complications have increased on this front with Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan threatening to veto a plan to defend the Baltic states against Russia unless Nato recognised the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) ‘as terrorists.’ Erdogan’s statement suggests that with the U.S.’s tacit retreat from the world stage, nation-states now seem prepared to strike hard bargains with other Nato member countries for self-interest. This is something Banerji feels, the two nations will only celebrate and already we are seeing the signs of an increased global role from them.
‘The US withdrawal from the world stage will certainly make it easier for both China and Russia to be more activist and assertive. China has been moving inexorably, for quite some time now, towards a greater global presence and influence, especially through its Belt and Road Initiative. In the case of Russia we are seeing a more activist foreign policy once again, especially in the cases of Syria and Venezuela.’
Clearly, the churning in the global order is underway and it remains to be seen just which way the dice will fall. But what of India? Is India impacted by the internal disorder within Nato? Not really, according to Banerji.
‘India is a big country, with significant political and economic clout and defence capability. The state of NATO or the extent of its global influence does not impact on India in a significant way. It is in India’s interest to maintain good relations with the US, Europe, Russia and China. China is India’s natural rival in many ways, but India does not have to depend on NATO in managing that rivalry.’