Michalis Tsintsinis MICHALIS TSINTSINIS

The US vacuum and new opportunities

COMMENT

TAGS: Diplomacy, Turkey, US

It is never good news when questions of foreign policy are illustrated with maps. It would be worthwhile, perhaps, to take our eyes off the Eastern Mediterranean for a moment to look at another map, which was published for NATO’s 70th anniversary summit. That map illustrates the percentage of gross domestic product each member-state spends on defense.

One group of states, ranging from the Baltic countries and Poland to the Western Balkans, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece, spends more on defense than the alliance average of 2 percent of GDP per year. Everyone else in Europe – with the exception of the United Kingdom – spends less.

What we see on the map, therefore, is a pattern of insecurity on the West’s eastern border, though Greece is something of a special case because it does not share a border with – to put it elegantly – a competitive power like Russia. Instead, it shares borders with a country that is challenging NATO from within.

This is a very old yet often neglected parameter, which was underscored by a particular scene at the NATO summit in London on Tuesday: of the Turkish president threatening to block the alliance’s plan to bolster Baltic defenses, combined with the image of an American president who could not, for an entire 52 minutes, stop talking about the Turkish president in the most flattering tones to an utterly astonished NATO secretary-general.

A new parameter that emerged from this – no longer unusual – monologue is that Europe does not have someone to “get the job done” anymore, the job being the pillar that has supported the post-World War II world. US President Donald Trump went so far as to excuse Recep Tayyip Erdogan over Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile system, putting the blame on his predecessor in the White House.

Domestic Euroskepticism, which this time around is stirring on the right of the political spectrum, blames the European Union for a major historic shift it had no part in causing. Europe is not to blame for the fact that America is being steered by a man who talks about Erdogan like a starstruck groupie. Europe may be lacking, but it’s also all we’ve got.

Regardless of who is to blame, in the midst of such a succession of fresh challenges, the “memorandum” Ankara claims to have signed with a state that has not even succeeded in taking shape appears to be an insignificant detail to the allies. It appears to ignore Greek concerns.

It appears to, but this is not the case. By provoking everyone, Erdogan is fomenting the conditions for alliances against him; alliances which – for the next 12 months at least – cannot include the United States.

Online