To Have Success, NATO Summits Must Go Beyond The Status Quo

To Have Success, NATO Summits Must Go Beyond The Status Quo

Dalibor Rohac

Security, Europe

Low expectations have led to poor outcomes.

Make no mistake, the half-day meeting of NATO leaders in London is a minefield. Most observers will be relieved if the alliance can get it over with without explosive rhetorical exchanges, tweetstorms, or other mishaps. President Trump, in particular, has been long distrustful of the usefulness of the alliance for the United States — though today he said (correctly!) that NATO “served a great purpose.”

Yet, it is troubling that for a NATO summit to qualify as a success these days, it is simply necessary to avoid larger fallouts and to preserve the status quo, or at least its appearances. The “soft bigotry of low expectations” means that long-standing problems continue to fester, making transatlantic security architecture more fragile than it may seem from the rising levels of defense spending in Europe and the military build-up on NATO’s eastern flank.

One of such long-standing issues is the continuing failure of the alliance to confront authoritarians in its midst. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the alliance has been defined not so much by its enemies as by its values. Yet, countries such as Erdogan’s Turkey continue to violate those values — and act against the US and Europe’s interests in practical ways, including through its behavior in Northern Syria and through its purchases of Russian military equipment.

Likewise, Orban’s Hungary has moved markedly in the authoritarian direction during recent years, while simultaneously seeking to undermine the alliance’s efforts to help Ukraine, inviting the Cold War-era, Russian-led International Investment Bank to move its headquarters to Budapest, and normalizing relations with Assad’s Syria.

To tolerate such excesses is to encourage them further. And insofar as authoritarian regimes do indeed behave differently and less predictably in the international arena than democracies, keeping Turkey and Hungary unchallenged, under the alliance’s fold, represents a ticking time bomb.

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