NATO has been searching for relevance for a generation. Now, as the EU faces a meltdown, the fate of NATO is even more unclear.
European nations are more and more discontent with the EU. The aftermath of Brexit, and the banking crisis that has spread from Italy to Germany, only inflame the tension. As a result, major European powers are less likely to play a bigger role in NATO.
The lack of a clear mission has plagued NATO since the Soviet Union collapsed. Since then, NATO’s European members have had less incentive to bear the costs of collective security. Add to that Europe’s current financial constraints, and members have even less incentive to do so.
Germany sees NATO as a low priority
Well before the EU crisis, Germany tried to balance between Russia and the West. This added to the discord in the Western camp over how to deal with Russia. Germany wants to raise defense spending and its security role in Europe. But with a looming exporters’ crisis and a bank crisis, NATO is now a low priority for the Germans.
The EU’s dispute over how to deal with the financial crisis will only worsen the discord in NATO. Germany doesn’t want to bail out financially distressed southern Europe. The security of nations on Russia’s periphery is also not high on their priorities list.
Despite all assurances, these states have to worry about their national security. If the EU broke down, NATO might be next.
At the 2016 NATO summit in Warsaw, US President Barack Obama assured the Europeans that they could count on the US for their security needs. But these nations also know that the US relies on regional players to take the lead.
This is good news for Russia
Tensions in the EU forced Eastern nations to reassess how much they can count on NATO. Fortunately, the Russians have their own crisis due to the drop in energy prices and sanctions.
The Kremlin is in no position to take further action in Eastern Europe. However, the existential crisis of the EU leaves Eastern Europe mired in uncertainty.
From Russia’s point of view, the EU falling apart is positive. Russian media continue to report on NATO’s hostile actions following the Warsaw summit. But the Russians know that the Europeans are in crisis.
Russia also knows that European nations are too busy dealing with their own problems to put up a fight. Russia is unlikely to be able to reverse the losses it has incurred in Ukraine. But at the same time, Europe in crisis puts arrestors in the path of NATO expansion.
The decline of supranational stakeholders like the EU and NATO is one symptom of a storm of instability engulfing a region that’s home to 5 billion of the planet’s 7 billion people.