By Arab News
By Yasar Yakis*
Heads of state and governments of the 28 NATO member countries on May 25 held a summit in Brussels in the alliance’s new headquarters. One of the important decisions adopted in the meeting was NATO joining the global anti-Daesh coalition, in which all 28 NATO countries are already members individually.
Its participation as an institution in the coalition will send a political message to Daesh and to the international community. The coalition will be able to use NATO’s command-and-control infrastructure to support the anti-Daesh fight. NATO will provide Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft and increase their flight time via air-to-air-refueling, but will not engage in combat operations.
The summit decided to create a Terrorism Intelligence Cell in NATO’s headquarters, where intelligence gathered by member countries will be shared. A coordinator will be appointed to oversee NATO’s anti-terrorism efforts.
During his election campaign, US President Donald Trump said NATO was “obsolete.” This created disillusionment in the trans-Atlantic community, and an expectation in Russia of a crack in the alliance.
He later said he had changed his mind after NATO leaders gave assurances that it would focus on combating groups such as Daesh. In a joint press conference in the White House with NATO’s secretary-general, Trump said: “I complained about that a long time ago, and they made a change and now they do fight terrorism. NATO is no longer obsolete.”
The US has legitimate reasons to complain about unfair burden-sharing in NATO. Its annual contribution of $455 million to the alliance’s budget is by far the largest, followed by Germany ($302 million), France ($218 million) and the UK $202 million.
Increasing the share of defense spending in national budgets has always been a thorny issue in NATO. It was agreed in 2014 that defense spending would amount to 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), but only five members have reached this target: The US, UK, Greece, Estonia and Poland.
A subject that was not discussed at the summit, but which particularly worries East European members, was Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. These countries were disappointed because Trump did not re-emphasize the importance of the article, which states that “an armed attack against one member country shall be considered as an attack against them all, and each of them will take such action as it deems necessary to restore and maintain security.”
They perceived it as a lack of US resolve to protect them from a potential Russian attack. Turkey had a bitter experience over Article 5 in 1964, when then-US President Lyndon B. Johnson sent a letter to then-Prime Minister Ismet Inonu saying: “NATO allies do not have an obligation to protect Turkey against the Soviet Union if Turkey takes a step which results in Soviet intervention (because of Turkey’s Cyprus policy).”
The treaty says each member “will take such action that it deems necessary.” Many members may deem a statement of condemnation sufficient. In other words, Trump’s attitude should not be perceived as a crucial omission.
The summit was also important because it took place as the fight against Daesh is nearing a happy end in Syria and Iraq. Trump emphasizes the importance of further involvement by other countries in the fight against terror, both in the Middle East and elsewhere.
During his recent visit to Saudi Arabia, the creation of a NATO-like pact of Sunni countries was discussed. Many Arab countries were represented in the meeting, but the creation of such an organization needs time as it has several implications for the balance of power and further militarization in the region, with many incalculable consequences.
• Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkey and founding member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).