NATO Chief Jens Stoltenberg believes Russia has "underestimated the unity of NATO allies" who see eye to eye on the issue of anti-Russia policy. But has it?
Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban secured a third successive term in office in a landslide electoral victory on April 8. His party Fidesz is projected to maintain key two-thirds majority in parliament. Ever since coming to power in 2010, the PM has been criticized inside the alliance for his friendly attitude toward Moscow and good personal chemistry with its leader. According to CNN, Hungary looks more and more like Russia. Just like Moscow, Budapest has problems with Ukraine, blocking its way to NATO and Western organizations. Orban has always strongly opposed Russia sanctions and supported a dialogue with Moscow at all levels. The PM counters George Soros’ attempts to influence the country’s policies. This policy is popular inside the country.
The new Italian coalition government to be formed after the March election will also hardly approve anything to spoil further the relations between Russia and the alliance. All the political forces that did well in the elections openly say they want to be friends with Moscow.
Anti-NATO sentiments are on the rise in Slovakia. Portugal and Greece did not join other members of the bloc in expelling Russian diplomats over the Skripal poisoning case. Athens has always been friendly with Moscow, giving rise to fears that it would undermine NATO from within while its rift with Ankara is widening. The two countries keep on discussing further plans to boost military cooperation. Some experts hold the opinion that the Russia-Greece relations could be viewed as a "poke in the eye of NATO”.
If Scotland chooses to leave the UK in an independence referendum, it will no longer be a bloc’s member. Despite the Skripal scandal and the noise raised over the alleged chemical attack in Syria, French President Emmanuel Macron has just confirmed his plans to visit the St. Petersburg Economic Forum in May. In late March, the German government gave final approval for construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. The decision angered Poland and the Baltic States, creating another crack to endanger the bloc’s unity.
Turkey’s relations with other NATO partners are at the lowest ebb. The US military is leaving the country. Germany has moved its forces from Incirlik air base. The German ruling coalition harbors plans to freeze negotiations on Turkey’s accession to the EU due to human-rights abuses. The disagreement on Syria appears to be intractable. The recent events in northern Syria may lead to a clash between Turkish troops and the US-French military contingent.
Ankara has signed a contract to buy the Russian state-of-the-art S-400 long-range air defense system, which is not interoperable with NATO weaponry. The US has warned that the move will have consequences, including sanctions, if the deal with Moscow goes through. The alliance has failed to settle the old conflict between Greece and Turkey.
It’s not the first time the unity is threatened. It’s enough to remember the events of 2003, when the US and the UK invaded Iraq, although Germany and France opposed the move. The idea of a pan-European security order is gaining momentum. Washington has expressed grave concern over the Permanent Structured Cooperation on defense (PESCO), warning that it could undermine NATO. This project as well as the creation of EU defense fund will facilitate joint purchases of European weapons and equipment to hurt American arms exports.
A proposal to form new defense alliance outside NATO has been added to the European security agenda. It is backed by Germany and France. German Chancellor Angela Merkel believes that Europe’s security can no longer rely on America and Great Britain.
The US and its European allies are divided over the Iran deal that President Trump wants to decertify in May. This is another divisive issue. If America walks away from the Iran nuclear deal and Europe does not, NATO will face a very difficult period in its history. There is very little time left till President Trump announces his decision.
Europe wants a force to fight illegal migration while the US is pushing for power projection capability. Add to it the recently unleashed “tariff war” between America and Europe. Tit-for-tat trade restrictions will turn the NATO allies into belligerents.
And now the main thing. NATO is an organization which takes decisions on the basis of consensus. Until now, the US has had enough clout to maneuver all the member states into submission. The election results in Hungary and Italy have changed the balance of forces inside the alliance. With such an overwhelming public support, the new Hungarian and Italian governments can stand up to pressure and defend their views. The attempts to coerce them into observing the principle of transatlantic solidarity can backfire to make the disagreements come into the open. The policy of maintaining the much-vaunted unity at all cost may not work this time. It’s hardly the right time for NATO to test it.