Whether NATO can avoid the “dim and dismal future” Bob Gates warned about “will largely be determined by the quality of leadership demonstrated by its largest and most influential allies: the United States, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and Turkey,” warns the Atlantic Council in a new report.

Under the leadership of Nick Burns and Damon Wilson in consultation with a team of esteemed experts, Anchoring the Alliance argues that “Contrary to conventional wisdom, NATO is not yesterday’s story.” Indeed, “NATO is the essential bridge uniting the United States, Canada, and twenty-six European nations in the world’s most democratic and powerful alliance.”

Among the key recommendations:

  • The United States should demonstrate its leadership of the transatlantic community by building an economic partnership as strong as our security alliance through a new Transatlantic Partnership including all NATO and European Union nations.
  • Germany needs to rededicate its attention to NATO. NATO needs a much stronger, more strategically ambitious, and more capable Germany to remain a healthy alliance. Germany today is an economic powerhouse, but a second-rate military power. German military weakness is NATO’s most significant problem. A stronger Germany would be the greatest boost to NATO’s future.
  • The United Kingdom’s deep defense reductions risk undermining its special status as one of NATO’s most capable members. The Cameron government must meet its pledge to renew defense investments and should consider deploying the second of the two newly-ordered Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers with NATO or the United States after 2018, if it cannot deploy it nationally.
  • France must ensure that its return to NATO’s integrated command structure and its newfound Atlanticist instincts become enduring elements of French strategic culture. 
  • Turkey should be considered for leadership roles in the Alliance for the first time. Turkey is Europe’s only rising power and its political influence in the Middle East is now greater than that of Germany, France, or the United Kingdom. The United States and Europe should consider a Turk as a future NATO Secretary General.

While I’ll assess some of the recommendations in depth in separate posts, the report’s focus on the role of NATO’s chief allies is perhaps the most interesting. While it might seem obvious that the most economically, militarily, and politically powerful members of the Alliance should lead it, it’s seldom stated in NATO circles. Like all IGOs, NATO pays homage to the Westphalian fiction of sovereign equality, often to its detriment. That Albania exceeds the Alliance minimum threshold of 2 percent of GDP in defense spending is all well and good; it’s not nearly as significant as the fact that Germany does not.

That there should be a transatlantic free trade zone would seem a no-brainer, albeit one that’s been almost a non-starter because of agriculture protectionism. That we’re talking about it in the context of NATO and its transatlantic security is interesting, indeed–and absolutely correct.

The recommendations for Germany, France, and the UK are likewise candid and reasonable. Alas, they’re exceedingly unlikely to be implemented in the current political climate.

The boldest of the above-highlighted recommendations is electing a Turkish secretary general. It would indeed send a strong message about Ankara’s vital role to the Alliance and the transatlantic relationship. Even more so if coupled with an invitation to join the EU, fully anchoring Turkey in Europe. 

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.

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