The Enemy Within NATO


Ted Galen Carpenter says the biggest threat to NATO isn’t Russia, but some increasingly authoritarian regimes within the western alliance:

Another development that has received less media attention, but could prove extremely disruptive to NATO is the emergence of ugly authoritarian trends in some members, especially Romania, Hungary and Turkey.

The rising tide of domestic authoritarianism in NATO countries is not a small concern. True, the Alliance has previously tolerated illiberal regimes and even outright dictatorships as members. Founding member Portugal was a quasifascist country under Antonio Salazar. Throughout the Cold War, the military was the decisive power broker in Turkey’s political system, and on occasion the country even lapsed into outright military rule. Greece groaned under a brutal military dictatorship in the late 1960s and early 1970s without forfeiting its NATO membership.

But it would be far more difficult in the twenty-first century for the Alliance to look the other way if a member succumbed to dictatorial impulses.

Greece and Turkey represented NATO’s southern flank, with the ability to deny the Soviets access to the Mediterranean and the Middle East — we had to give them leeway, or risk inciting Moscow to throw the dice. Furthermore, Turkey’s occasional military governments were a feature (built into the system by Ataturk) and not a bug. The Turkish Army (since neutered by its Islamic government) was the guarantor of Ataturk’s western reforms, against backwards elements in Turkish politics and culture.

But that is just an aside.

25 years ago, NATO should have thrown itself one hell of a victory party, then dissolved in the afterglow. The core states of northern and western Europe and the US could have enjoyed a less formal éntente cordiale , and non-core, non-democratic states could have gone on their merry ways. Should a big enough threat emerge (or re-emerge), the threatened states could always form a new alliance. But absent a real threat, a defensive alliance is a contradiction in terms.

Instead of happy dissolution, NATO chose expansion — right up to the borders of the old USSR. And NATO made promises, and held out the carrot of potential membership, to former Soviet Republics like Ukraine and Georgia. So while it may be true that Vladimir Putin is paranoid, but it’s certainly true that NATO has fed his paranoias. Just as bad, or worse if Carpenter has it right, we’ve invited in, or kept on, states with no democratic traditions, whose democracies are unraveling.

What was a defensive alliance of (mostly) likeminded westernized nations became an expansive alliance of… well, let’s just say some not-so-likeminded nations were shown the blue carpet.

And now the contradiction, as contradictions must eventually do, has come back to bite us on the ass.