In 2014, at the Wales Summit, all NATO members pledged to meet a target of spending 2% of their GDP on defense by 2024. Five years later, only seven of the 29 NATO allies are currently reaching the agreed target of 2% of GDP. Pictured: Leaders of NATO member states watch a flypast of military aircraft at the NATO summit on September 5, 2014 in Newport, United Kingdom. (Photo by Stefan Rousseau/WPA Pool/Getty Images)
In May 2017, the new $1.23 billion NATO headquarters was inaugurated in Brussels, in the presence of US President Donald Trump. With its state-of-the-art facilities, it was supposed to be "an emblem of a strong, adaptable Alliance... a 21st century headquarters for a 21st century Alliance", according to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
In November 2019, in an explosive interview with The Economist, French President Emmanuel Macron declared NATO to be "brain dead", thereby triggering a flood of angry reactions.
Macron is wrong. Not only was NATO highly successful in deterring the Soviet threat for half a century, it still has a key role to play in an unstable world. It is true, however, that the 70-year-old organization, which holds a summit this week in London, faces several major challenges.
The first one is the strength of the transatlantic Alliance and trust among allies. In 2014, at the Wales Summit, all NATO members pledged to meet a target of spending 2% of their GDP on defense by 2024. At that time, only three countries -- the US, Greece and the UK -- met this requirement. Five years later, despite an increase in the defense budgets of many European countries, only seven of the 29 NATO allies are currently reaching the agreed target of 2% of GDP.
Although then US President Barack Obama also criticized NATO members' defense spending, the current US President Donald J. Trump has made it a central theme of his foreign policy -- but with limited success.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Germany, a frequent target of Trump's criticism, is spending 1.2% of GDP on defense (2018), a figure largely unchanged since 2014. Chancellor Merkel also sharply criticized Macron's statement despite failing to increase Germany's spending over the years.
Europe's attitude towards NATO is filled with contradictions. According to a survey, most Germans believe that NATO is important for peace in Europe. Yet they are reluctant to increase their defense budget. Europeans leaders often complain about America's disengagement from Europe and fear the return of American isolationism. But America's commitment to European defense would be stronger if Europeans governments kept their word.
For decades, Europe lived under the Soviet threat. Maybe Germany as well as the other European countries should be reminded of what they owe the United States.
Macron is talking about a "true European Army", with France's nuclear deterrent able to "defend Europe on its own". This is a dangerous dream. For the last 40 years, we have regularly heard calls to build a "Europe of defense". After Brexit, the 19 European countries, which are also NATO members, will only contribute to 22% of NATO countries' total defense spending. This is a poor record.
Europe's defense is still entirely reliant on the United States and that is not going to change in the foreseeable future. The EU would be unable to wage a war, even a defensive one, without American support. If, as European governments claim, they want to maintain strong political ties with America, they should increase their military spending accordingly.
The second major challenge the NATO summit will face is Turkey. Following the 2016 coup attempt, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan purged his army. As a result, many senior officers Turkish assigned to NATO asked for asylum in Belgium. Erdogan has imprisoned hundreds of journalists, purchased Russia's S-400 anti-aircraft missile system, and invaded northern Syria at the expense of the Kurds, who had bravely fought against ISIS.
Turkey has the second-largest army in NATO, but it is no longer a fully democratic country, nor it is a reliable ally. As long as the Erdogan's Islamist AKP party dominates Turkish politics, the country will remain a significant problem for the alliance.
Last but not least: the relationship with Russia. The NATO expansion after the end of the Cold War, and incorporating the former Warsaw Pact nations, strongly contributed to Russia's antagonism.
Moscow did not expect NATO to move east. For Russian President Vladimir Putin, NATO's expansion eastwards was extremely unpleasant, but the straw that broke the camel's back was probably EU and US support for the 2014 coup in Ukraine.
In 2014, it was that coup (not a revolution) that ousted the democratically-elected leader, President Viktor Yanukovych. As a reminder, in 2010, when Yanukovych was elected president, the OSCE had concluded that "The presidential election met most OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections". The coup took place just 11 months before the scheduled presidential elections, which would have given the Ukrainian people the possibility to choose another direction for their country.
Despite the corruption and mismanagement of Yanukovych's regime (one hopes it is better now under President Volodymyr Zelensky), he not only managed to maintain the territorial integrity of Ukraine, but also a delicate balance in a country deeply divided between Ukrainians and Russians as well as between those supporting closer relations with Russia and those preferring deeper ties with the European Union. Entangled by these antagonistic forces, Ukraine, since its independence in 1991, has always been challenging to govern. Nevertheless, it was evident that the marginalization of ethnic Russians after the coup would not leave Moscow indifferent. Presumably as a result, Russia annexed Crimea and supported the uprising in the eastern provinces.
Just as George W. Bush kept the United States out of the 2008 Russia-Georgia war over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Barack Obama refused to send lethal aid to Ukraine.
However, the Obama administration and the EU did encourage the so-called Maidan Revolution, sent food and blankets to Ukraine, and played the sorcerer's apprentice in the internal affairs of Ukraine.
In 2017, newly elected President Donald Trump was certainly willing to build a better relationship with Russia. He was right to want to do so. But the pattern of Russia's invasion of Georgia in 2008, and Ukraine in 2014, its appearance in 2015 in Syria with airstrikes purporting to target ISIS but in reality targeting anti-Assad forces, all in addition to US Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller's investigation, made that rapprochement impossible.
It will be illuminating to see what the London Summit brings.
Alain Destexhe, a columnist and political analyst, is an honorary Senator in Belgium and former secretary general of Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders.