Despite varying views, NATO has proven itself to be the most successfully resilient Alliance in the world since its inception seven decades ago. During this period, especially at times of uncertainty or when the inability of the international system as a whole caused inaction in addressing serious crises in and around the Euro-Atlantic area, NATO’s relevance or performance has been questioned not only by outsiders but from within as well.
Even as recently as November 2019, some prominent politicians and opinion-makers were challenging the value, effectiveness, and functionality of NATO. In just two years from that date, when credible intelligence indicated in late 2021 that serious military preparations by Russia were underway, which later resulted in the form of its “special operation” in Ukraine, that doubtful approach was quickly replaced with a renewed trust in NATO.
In fact, the Alliance has always found consensus for practical solutions enabling its inner preparations. In reality, timely defensive measures and increasing defense investments since 2014 by allies had already been yielding concrete results beyond expectations, thereby ensuring overall deterrence and defense at least in certain frontiers. Yet, the image created following the withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021 as well as less-than-satisfactory cooperation in the fight against terrorism, especially against PKK and its extensions or affiliated terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq, have created some question marks about the Alliance’s coherence and solidarity.
Observing existing shortfalls and developing an understanding toward further adaptation needs of the Alliance in a rapidly changing security environment, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has demonstrated remarkable leadership in preserving the Allied unity and preparing NATO for the new decade. Upon his initiative, intensive Allied consultations took place with a view to developing and implementing the NATO 2030 Agenda and considerable progress was achieved in areas and domains that had not been addressed earlier. With subsequent historic decisions taken at NATO’s Madrid Summit on June 28-30, 2022, including on a new Strategic Concept, the purpose, fundamental principles, and core tasks of the Alliance have been reaffirmed and the course to be followed by NATO and Allies in the coming decade has become clearer.
The strategic vision discussed and adopted in Madrid at the highest level by leaders, reflects, as required, a genuine 360-degree approach to Allied security, and a renewed determination in addressing the full range of threats and challenges the Alliance and Allies are expected to face in the coming decade. This transformative vision, which is fully incorporated into the new Strategic Concept, is based on the indivisibility of security for each and every Ally. The principle of the indivisibility of security stems from the very foundation of the NATO Alliance, constituting the center of gravity, which is unity among all Allies. This is and will remain a sine qua non for any credible deterrence and defense that should be carried forward in an integrated manner for the Alliance and Allies as a whole.
It is not a coincidence that Article 1 of the new Strategic Concept reads: “NATO is determined to safeguard the freedom and security of Allies. Its key purpose and greatest responsibility is to ensure our collective defence, against all threats, from all directions. We are a defensive Alliance.”
This language should be clear enough. Yet, how the principle of indivisibility is going to be applied and to what extent all core tasks defined in the new Strategic Concept are to be implemented in practice will determine the level of success as well as the future relevance of NATO. If they are interpreted in a narrower sense and allowed to be implemented only to focus on collective defense for a number of selected Allies that are currently considered as those most exposed to Article 5–type threats, while the remaining core tasks including countering terrorism that is essential to our collective defense as defined in Article 34 of the new Strategic Concept are arbitrarily left mostly at the discretion of other “partner organizations” and/or “coalitions of the willing led by one or few Allies,” the center of gravity cannot be maintained. Such an exclusive and short-sighted approach would not only undermine the unity among Allies by leaving certain threats unaddressed, but also lead to an unnecessary duplication of efforts with other partner organizations, resulting in an ultimate and inevitable inertia or, worse, a cacophony in overall security and defense efforts.
In order to prevent such an undesirable eventuality, Article 3 of the new Strategic Concept provides the necessary guidance: “NATO is the unique, essential and indispensable transatlantic forum to consult, coordinate and act on all matters related to our individual and collective security. We will strengthen our Alliance based on our indivisible security, solidarity, and ironclad commitment to defend each other, as enshrined in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. Our ability to deter and defend is the backbone of that commitment.”
The successful deterrence of Article 5– or “near Article 5”–type threats so far cannot and should not be taken for granted in the mid to long term since the Alliance and Allies would be facing so many diverse threats and challenges from many directions and domains. Only a truly genuine, inclusive, and comprehensive approach to security can ensure a sustainable and continuous deterrence and defense for the whole Euro-Atlantic area. A division of labor between NATO and the European Union as contemplated by some would be counterproductive and inevitably lead to bifurcation of defense efforts. Under all circumstances, we must take into account the fact that there is only one single set of forces and one single budgetary framework of resources available for any Ally.
At a time of increasingly dangerous great-power competition and given the existence of so many diverse challenges and threats as well as huge uncertainties that are extremely difficult to predict, it is inconceivable and self-defeating to insist on senseless blue-on-blue sanctions and restrictions. They are not only detrimental to the very foundations of this Alliance, but also in gross contradiction with the letter and spirit of the North Atlantic Treaty.
NATO is not a simple “military Alliance” or a “military toolbox” as contemplated by some. It is an Alliance among thirty free and democratic member states. The parties to the Washington Treaty agree that an armed attack against one or more of them shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently agree that they will assist each other in exercising the right of individual or collective self-defense recognized by Article 51 of the United Nations Charter to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area. This cannot be achieved without full solidarity among all Allies also in the political and economic spheres as well as being together in addressing all other relevant aspects of resilience. It is not a coincidence that Article 3 of the North Atlantic Treaty stipulates the following: “In order more effectively to achieve the objectives of this Treaty, the Parties, separately and jointly, by means of continuous and effective self-help and mutual aid, will maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack.”
The signing of the Trilateral Memorandum among Türkiye, Sweden, and Finland on June 28, 2022, was a decisive contribution to the overall success of the Madrid Summit, which enabled their invitation at the summit to become members of NATO. It has set the standards for being a better ally. As prospective NATO allies, Finland and Sweden committed “to prevent activities of the PKK and all other terrorist organisations and their extensions, as well as activities by individuals in affiliated and inspired groups or networks linked to these terrorist organisations.” By doing so, they have not only extended their “full support to Türkiye against threats to its national security”; they also confirmed that there would be no national arms embargoes among the three parties.
Türkiye, having the second-largest armed forces in the Alliance, being the fifth-biggest contributor to NATO’s many missions and operations, being the eight-largest contributor to the Allied common-funded programs and budgets, is an indispensable and irreplaceable major NATO Ally with its hugely critical geopolitical importance at the southeastern flank of the Alliance. Full and genuine solidarity with Türkiye is the minimum required responsibility that other Allies must demonstrate now.
Ambassador Basat Öztürk is the Permanent Representative of the Republic of Türkiye to NATO.