NATO Tensions and the ‘Brain-Death’ of the Strategic Alliance

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance is known around the world for its commitment and perseverance to ensure peace and stability in regions where hostilities increase on a daily basis. NATO is a force to be reckoned with. However, the organization is slowly losing momentum.

Macron: NATO is Experiencing ‘Brain-Death’

French President Emmanuel Macron said last year that NATO is experiencing “brain-death.” one might question what the French President meant when he said those words. Macron was criticizing the participation of the United States by saying that the bloc could no longer depend on the Trump Administration for protection. He also voiced his views regarding the protection of Europe unilaterally saying that it should be done by European powers themselves.

2020: NATO’s Problems are Far From Over

Fast-forward to this year and the organization is yet again facing problems of unity and cooperation. At the heart of the latest issue is the European Union’s naval mission Operation IRINI which monitors the arms embargo on Libya through vessels deployed in the Mediterranean Sea. The warring sides in Libya; that of Libyan National Army General Khalifa Haftar and Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj’s U.N.-recognized Government of National Accord are not showing any signs of ceasing fire. Earlier last month on June 10, a Tanzanian flagged ship was spotted by a Greek vessel called Spetsai and Greece accused Turkey of using it to transport weapons to the Fayez al-Sarraj government in Tripoli.

Cirkin vs. Courbet

This was just part one of what happened later on the same day when the Tanzanian-flagged ship Cirkin’encountered the French frigate Courbet. France lodged an official complaint to NATO saying that the Turkish ships were hostile when asked about what the Cirkin was carrying. Turkey has denied the accusations, saying the encounter was friendly. Following the incident in the Mediterranean, France decided on July 1 to withdraw from NATO’s Operation Sea Guardian. The very next day, France’s minister for armed forces, Florence Parly said at the EU’s Security and Defense Subcommittee hearing that, “I have been supported by many of my European counterparts and I thank them. We are supposed to be an alliance. An ally who conscientiously violates the rules that the alliance is supposed to enforce and tries to threaten those who interrogate him is not acceptable.”

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in return replied by saying: “Our expectation from France at the moment is for it to apologize in a clear fashion, without ifs or buts, for not providing the correct information.” Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar also branded the French accusations as “completely unrealistic.” The EU’s top diplomat Joseph Borrell was in the Turkish capital on 6th July to discuss issues regarding the Sea Guardian mission, Syria and other bilateral topics. The Turkish FM once again warned the EU on the occasion that Ankara will retaliate if the bloc decides to impose new sanctions on Turkey.

NATO Needs to Get its Ship in Order

NATO’s problems and disagreements aren’t new but if complications continue to persist, infighting could reach a tipping point. Turkey has its own concerns with the EU. Under the 2016 migration deal, it hasn’t received the promised aid for refugees coming from Syria. This has worsened tensions between the two sides. Furthermore, the EU accession process is also another area of concern where France is against Turkey’s inclusion to the bloc. The Turkish concerns are appropriate but it won’t help if both sides continue the cold war over Libya. While the French side says it will return to the Sea Guardian mission, it has asked for a few requests to be accepted. Notably, that Turkey respects the embargo, a categorical rejection of Turkey’s use of NATO codes, initiation of de-confliction measures and improved cooperation between the EU and NATO.

Turkey is the Wild Card

But to what extent will Turkey cooperate with NATO and France? Turkey has repeatedly stated that tensions with the EU and France in particular could be resolved through dialogue and by guiding all stakeholders in a politically correct manner. If actions from both sides are taken in terms of reconciliation and compliance, then only will this problematic scenario reach its desired end.

This event shows the deepening divide between NATO members who have personal statements and interests in the organization. The communication between members is weak as many of them support opposing sides in ongoing military conflicts across the globe. For instance, France sides with Libya’s Haftar while Turkey has given its backing to the internationally-recognized government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj.

France’s growing worry over NATO support could take a turn for the worse as only 8 out of 30 NATO members sided with French claims which accused Turkey. The UK and the US refrained from siding with the French since London considers Turkey as a crucial partner post-Brexit and the relationship between the Americans and the Turks is at a commendable point where both are on the same side in Libya. Boris Johnson was also reported to have said that he does not give “much credibility” to France’s views.