In the footsteps of his predecessors, during his first transatlantic trip, Joe Biden is paying an important visit to NATO. Notwithstanding agenda items related to the Alliance’s capabilities to counter key threats and challenges, one burning issue will be among the US president’s priorities: dealing with the authoritarian Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s messy politics at home, in Europe and in the Middle East.
Restoring NATO’s cohesion and credibility is a basic prerequisite before the much expected “reset the button” engagement process with Russia. The S-400 issue is a serious challenge undermining NATO militarily, diplomatically and politically. It is not just an issue between Washington and Ankara; it poses a strategic problem for the Alliance as a whole and adversely affects frontline states’ security – Greece included. It may be addressed as a priority in order to preserve NATO’s credibility, restore intra-Alliance confidence and for the unqualified implementation of the indivisible collective security axiom.
NATO’s politico-military containment and persuasive edge stem from the North Atlantic Treaty. Articles 1 to 5 are the backbone of the Alliance. Yet Turkey – supposedly a NATO ally – is seriously challenging the Allied collective defense and solidarity foundations, in defiance of its Treaty obligations. NATO Treaty Articles 1 and 2 clearly define that along with interests, principles and values that are or rather should be the foundations of our engagement.
Article 1 stipulates: “The Parties undertake, as set forth in the Charter of the United Nations, to settle any international dispute in which they may be involved by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security and justice are not endangered, and to refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force in any manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.” The NATO Charter’s principles are treaty obligations and commitments based also on the UN Charter. What is the essence of Article 1? It entails two fundamental obligations for the member-states: first, to settle their international disputes by peaceful means so that international peace, security and justice are not endangered, and, second, to refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force, in any manner inconsistent with the UN Charter.
At this critical juncture, the Alliance’s negotiating credibility and international politico-military leverage is jeopardized when a member-state disregards these Treaty axioms. As in the case of Turkey using its military force or threatening to use it against others, NATO allies included. This is the so-called casus belli, Turkey’s standing official posture against Greece.
Article 2 mandates that “the Parties will contribute toward the further development of peaceful and friendly international relations by strengthening their free institutions…”
Strengthening democratic and free institutions is a NATO Treaty obligation. This is a fundamental prerequisite for enhancing NATO’s contribution to “…the development of peaceful and friendly international relations…” Autocracy and systemic and systematic human rights abuses are incompatible with the NATO’s Charter provisions and with our collective efforts for the development of peaceful and friendly international relations. During the Cold War, we cherished this as the West’s “moral advantage” in international relations and bloc-to-bloc negotiations.
This principle should also apply today while striving to engage and/or deter China and Russia. Free and democratic governance and institutions – not military aggression and authoritarianism – are fundamental for boosting the Alliance’s credibility and capabilities. In political and non-diplomatic terms, this credibility and “moral authority” are jeopardized when democracy, parliamentarianism, freedom of religion, press and expression and the right to be different in Turkey are at gunpoint.
Beyond NATO, the Biden administration’s much desired “reset” of multilateralism has a name: the United Nations and the Security Council. Multilateralism is the prerequisite for restoring the efficacy of the international collective security system, of reshaping the problematic world order. The Charter’s provisions, international law and justice should prevail over unilateral military aggressions and threats of war.
NATO summit declarations may look idle and rather evasive as long as President Erdogan’s unlawful acts and policies continue to go unchecked.
Alexandros P. Mallias is a former ambassador of Greece to Washington.