This years' leader summit of the North Atlantic Alliance, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary, will take place next week in London. How the 29-member alliance, which is experiencing its greatest debates since the end of the Cold War, will respond to the ongoing disagreements between its dominant members is still unclear.
On one side, there is discord over NATO defense spending between Germany and the U.S. and on the other side, French President Emmanuel Macron's outburst that "NATO is experiencing brain death" reveals the magnitude of the divide in cross-Atlantic relations and within Europe.
Along these lines, the upcoming London summit is attracting attention regarding whether it will present new opportunities for the alliance or serve as another platform for disagreements, where U.S. President Donald Trump, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Macron will come face to face. Since Trump's first days in office, he has been pressing EU members, particularly Germany, to increase defense spending and threatening Germany with closing U.S. bases and withdrawing 50,000 American soldiers and civil personnel from the country. Trump has yet to visit Berlin since he took office.
Another NATO-centered strain is the conflict between the alliance's European members. Macron recently described the alliance as "brain dead," saying that Europe cannot rely on the U.S. for the protection of its allies. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, on the other side, responded that despite ailments, NATO is a living alliance from top to bottom. Maas pointed out that it is not possible for Germany and the rest of Europe to protect themselves effectively without the U.S.
One of the most recent outbursts regarding NATO came from Merkel the previous day. In her speech at the federal parliament referring to the alliance's 70th anniversary, Merkel stressed Turkey's geostrategic significance and stated that Turkey, which she will visit during the first month of the new year, must remain a NATO member. "Turkey should remain a NATO member, and we should also work to ensure this," she said. Merkel, who indicated that there are a number of terror threats facing Europe, added, "When there is a fire around us, the U.S. does not take responsibility anymore." Merkel said the world has a new multipolar order in which China plays an important role, stressing: "Preserving NATO is in our interest. Europe cannot defend itself anymore, we need this alliance."
Adding to all these statements, Merkel's explanation that the war in Syria has turned into a proxy war is an important signal that Russia and Turkey's cooperation for a political solution in the country will be needed.
On the other side, another fracture in NATO has arisen from the fact that groups seen as terrorist organizations by one ally are seen as proxies by another. This problem between two allies – Turkey and the U.S. – ranks first on the list of conflicts. Within this framework, the U.S. has rejected the publication of a NATO defense plan regarding Turkey, which includes the PKK-affliated People's Protection Units (YPG) terrorist organization as a threat. Turkish authorities have evaluated the U.S. refusal by saying, "When the report is published, the U.S. will be legally responsible for supporting the YPG." On the other hand, there are indications that NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg is trying to find common ground between the parties. In this regard, Turkey wants to reach a consensus that respects mutual interests; however, the U.S. still presents an image that does not seem conciliatory.
In light of all of these developments, as the country with the alliance's second biggest army, Turkey's expectations and proposals will be voiced by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the NATO leader summit. Erdoğan is expected to present Turkey's ideas on issues regarding the alliance's place, vision, responsibilities and priorities in the 21st century amid debates on "NATO's brain death."
The solution to the Syrian humanitarian crisis, the political process in the country, the safe zone, financing of the region and particularly Turkey's fight against the PKK/YPG and Daesh terrorist organizations will be at the top of Turkey's agenda. At the summit, where leaders will also hold bilateral meetings, Turkey's expectations and proposals are quite extensive. If there is a consensus for NATO in sight, it seems that it will occur only with the initiatives of the troika of its strongest members: Turkey, Germany and the U.S.