NATO summit exposes internal struggles over expansionist agenda

By Imran Khalid | Gwadar Pro Jul 18, 2023

Editor's Note: The writer is a freelance columnist on international affairs based in Karachi, Pakistan. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of Gwadar Pro.

The recent NATO summit has blatantly exposed simmering divisions within the alliance regarding its expansionist agenda in both the Asia-Pacific region and Europe. The ostensible objective of the two-day summit was to portray a unified front for the Atlantic region. However, the notion of "NATO unity" seems to be more of a theoretical marketing strategy rather than a tangible reality in practice.

The discussions revealed stark disagreements within NATO on two acute matters: Ukraine's potential membership and the establishment of a NATO representative office in Tokyo. The issue of Ukraine's membership provoked clear divisions among member states, with some-including the US, Germany and Hungary - expressing serious reservations about the implications and risks involved, which resulted in some sort of personal setback to Ukrainian President Zelensky who had been expecting a formal invitation or a timeframe for Ukraine’s induction into the alliance. Zelensky's response to Ukraine's failure to secure a formal invitation to join NATO was marked by drama rather than diplomacy.

Prior to the summit, he took to Twitter, expressing his frustration at the lack of readiness to invite Ukraine into NATO and the absence of a defined timeframe for membership. He tweeted:”…that’s unprecedented and absurd when [a] time frame is not set.” Zelensky's truculent tweets sparked a backlash, with critics accusing him of lacking gratitude for the support already provided by NATO member states. British Defence Minister Ben Wallace responded by suggesting that a display of appreciation was expected, stating, "Whether we like it or not, people want to see a bit of gratitude." He further refered to a previous encounter in Kyiv, where Zelensky presented a weapons wish-list, "You know, we're not Amazon."

The intense exchange between Zelensky and Wallace at the outset of the summit further confirmed the speculations about internal divisions within NATO, with Zelensky at the center of attention. After a period of heightened tension, Zelensky eventually conveyed his “gratitude” to NATO leaders for their unprecedented support. UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak took a different stance from his defense minister, assuring the international community that Zelensky had expressed appreciation on various occasions, including a moving address in parliament. Sunak, unlike Wallace, advocated in favor of Zelensky.

However, concerning Ukraine's membership, NATO refrained from providing any roadmap or framework due to serious divisions. Instead, the alliance made two superficial concessions to Zelensky. Firstly, they allowed Ukraine to skip a customary step in the entry process known as the Membership Action Plan. Secondly, they included a mention in the final communique stating that "Ukraine's future is in NATO."

These cosmetic measures were part of calculated attempt to gloss over the underlying divisions within NATO's leadership regarding the ongoing Ukraine crisis. It appears that the alliance sought to present a unified front while grappling with internal dissent. Similarly, the proposal to open a NATO representative office in Tokyo encountered substantial resistance, further highlighting the fractures within the alliance. The controversial expansionist agenda of NATO continues to face opposition from within its own ranks. The latest display of dissent came on July 12, as French President Emmanuel Macron bluntly expressed his disapproval of the proposed establishment of a liaison office in Tokyo, Japan.

Macron's stance resonated with a fundamental reality: NATO, by its very name, denotes the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, with a geographic focus that does not align with the Indo-Pacific region. In a succinct manner, the French president challenged the rationale behind NATO's eastward reach, emphasizing the glaring discrepancy between the alliance's identity and the geopolitical dynamics of a region far removed from the North Atlantic theater. Macron argued that NATO means North Atlantic Treaty Organization and "the Indo-Pacific is not the North Atlantic." Macron was not alone in pointing towards this fundamental flaw in NATO’s deliberate attempt for eastward expansion.

Former Australian Prime Minister, Paul Keating, aligned himself with President Macron's critical perspective on NATO's ambitions. Keating also emphasized the need to recognize NATO's core identity rooted in the "North Atlantic" region. Keating warned against allowing NATO to export its contentious dynamics to Asia, likening it to an insidious contagion being introduced to a region that should instead embrace prosperity and harmony. Keating cautioned against the potential dangers inherent in replicating Europe's tumultuous past in the delicate fabric of Asia's future.  For the consecutive second year, the summit extended invitations once again to Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand, with the aim of countering what the US media characterizes as "China's strategic ambitions."

The formation of the "Indo-Pacific Four" is intended to instill apprehension and disrupt stability in the region as a response to China's growing influence. NATO's hegemonic aspirations are at play here, as they seek to entangle Asian nations in conflicts and alliances -with an unending cycle of arms race and instability. The good thing is that the hawkish elements encounter strong opposition from the "moderates" within the alliance. These divisions raise pricking questions about the cohesion and effectiveness of NATO as a unified force. The summit's outcomes underscore the lack of consensus and shared vision among member states, challenging the notion of a united front in pursuing NATO's expansionist agenda.

The disunity within NATO on key subjects suggests a broader pattern of divergence and disagreement among member states. It also raises doubts about the alliance's ability to navigate complex geopolitical challenges. Rather than demonstrating a united front, the summit has revealed the presence of significant fault lines within NATO. The purported "NATO unity" appears to be a far cry from the reality of deep divisions and discord among member states.

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