NATO under threat as military alliance marks 70th anniversary

As the North Atlantic Treaty Organization marks its 70th anniversary today, the world’s preeminent military alliance is in danger. That’s the message of 68 former senior officials, security experts, scholars and rights leaders who signed a statement by the bipartisan Transatlantic Democracy Working Group.

“The alliance’s commitment to advancing democratic principles as well as mutual defense has been hugely beneficial for North America and Europe. Yet today is no time for celebrating,” the statement reads. NATO “faces urgent challenges that require immediate attention, above all a recommitment to democratic values.”

ICWA Executive Director Gregory Feifer is among the signatories reminding that NATO’s founding treaty requires members to “contribute toward the further development of peaceful and friendly international relations by strengthening their free institutions, by bringing about a better understanding of the principles upon which these institutions are founded, and by promoting conditions of stability and well-being.”

With the alliance facing urgent challenges from Russia, China and elsewhere, that commitment is under threat from the backsliding governments of some member states as well as attacks on the alliance and some of America’s closest allies by US President Donald Trump.

The statement reads:

TRANSATLANTIC DEMOCRACY WORKING GROUP

Statement on Recommitting to Democratic Values for NATO’s 70th Anniversary

April 4, 2019

As the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) marks its 70th anniversary on April 4, the alliance’s commitment to advancing democratic principles as well as mutual defense has been hugely beneficial for North America and Europe. Yet today is no time for celebrating. Despite seven decades as the world’s preeminent military alliance, NATO’s future is in danger, as it faces urgent challenges that require immediate attention, above all a recommitment to democratic values.

NATO’s founding treaty requires members to “contribute toward the further development of peaceful and friendly international relations by strengthening their free institutions, by bringing about a better understanding of the principles upon which these institutions are founded, and by promoting conditions of stability and well-being.” That has helped underpin an alliance that, in the words of former U.S. Ambassador to NATO Douglas Lute, “bound together the U.S., Canada, and European allies in a way that has been fundamentally stabilizing for the world order.”

As members of the Transatlantic Democracy Working Group (TDWG) and/or strong bipartisan supporters of NATO, we are deeply concerned that the alliance’s democratic values are under enormous strain, with fault lines emerging as some NATO members flout the treaty’s founding principles and values. Democratic backsliding in several NATO states is simultaneously being kindled by Russia and economically exploited by China.

NATO was founded in the face of external threats mainly from the Soviet Union. Its success during the Cold War helped make a Europe “whole, free and at peace” a realistic goal after the fall of communism.  But despite the Soviet collapse and an era of rapprochement, the Russian government is again seeking to undermine NATO’s strength in increasingly aggressive ways, both overt and covert, violating or abandoning multiple arms control agreements, ignoring maritime and safety agreements, and disregarding other international norms.

Moscow began to undermine European post-war security in earnest starting with the invasion of Georgia in 2008 before moving to the illegal occupation and purported annexation of Crimea in 2014, its destabilization of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, and more recently, its direct aggression against Ukrainian naval ships in and around the Kerch Strait and Azov Sea last November.

Russia is becoming increasingly sophisticated in the use of 21st-century cyber warfare, including meddling in the democratic elections of NATO member states, most infamously the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Moscow is also using Hungary and other NATO members as backdoors of influence in Europe, fueling distrust, spreading corruption, and exploiting and enabling the rise of nationalist populism throughout the continent.

NATO has been poorly prepared for internal attacks on its democratic values by member states including Turkey, Poland, and Hungary. Turkey especially has waged a widespread crackdown on free expression and carried out mass arrests of dissidents that threaten to undermine the rule of law in that country and the shared values at the core of our alliance.

Former Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell spoke about the tandem threats posed by rival powers in October 2018, saying, “Russia and China are engaged in a full-court press in sensitive regions around the world. The U.S. must show up or expect to lose.”

But a new, perplexing threat—particularly for our NATO allies and even some American diplomats and military leaders—lies in the changing U.S. role. America is no longer viewed as a reliable leader and stalwart guarantor of the alliance’s security and democratic values. A gap between rhetoric and action has developed, with Washington adopting an assertive rather than collaborative posture toward some European allies.

Retired General Jim Mattis’s public letter of resignation from his position as Secretary of Defense in December starkly warned of the risk to NATO specifically and American alliances generally: “We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity, and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.”

NATO helps advance global peace and American interests in many ways. It is a bulwark against threats not only from Russia and China, but also the Islamic State group and other rivals and adversaries. Since September 11, the alliance has been present in Afghanistan for its largest and most sustained operation. NATO helped stabilize and bring peace to the Balkans. It has also been deeply engaged on Turkey’s border with the Syria crisis, and is helping cope with the refugee crisis in Europe.

Viewing NATO solely through a transactional lens of security and cash, undervaluing the need to protect democracy as an essential guarantor of stability and peace, is dangerously myopic about the importance of the liberal world order. President George H.W. Bush underscored that point during NATO’s 40th anniversary in 1989 in Germany. “The foundation of lasting security comes not from tanks, troops, or barbed wire,” he said. “It is built on shared values and agreements that link free peoples.”

If the United States and our allies are to continue advancing the vision of collective security and democracy that brought Europe and America together in Washington 70 years ago, we must remember that we will be weakened in a world not based on the values and rules that have long fueled our strength and prosperity.

Now is no time for complacency. We must respond to the 21st century challenges facing NATO and reaffirm our commitment to defending and promoting democratic values as the essential foundation of our freedom and security.

Signatories: Transatlantic Democracy Working Group Members and Supporters

Signatories have joined in their individual capacities. Institutional affiliation is listed for identification purposes only.

Ambassador (ret.) Norm Eisen, Steering Committee Co-Chair, Transatlantic Democracy Working Group; Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution; former U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic

Jeff Gedmin, Steering Committee Co-Chair, Transatlantic Democracy Working Group; Editor-in-chief, The American Interest; former President and CEO, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Susan Corke, Director of Secretariat, Transatlantic Democracy Working Group; Senior Resident Fellow, German Marshall Fund of the United States

Mike Abramowitz, President, Freedom House; former director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Levine Institute for Holocaust Education

Anders Aslund, Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council

Ambassador Dan Baer, Former U.S. Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe; Deputy Assistant Secretary of State

Rabbi Andrew Baker, American Jewish Committee

Marc Behrendt, Director for Europe and Eurasia Programs, Freedom House

Max Bergmann, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress

Jessica Brandt, Head of Research and Policy, Alliance for Securing Democracy Fellow, German Marshall Fund of the United States

Erik Brattberg, Director, Europe Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Thomas Carothers, Senior Vice President for Studies, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Mike Carpenter, Senior Director, Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement; former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, Eurasia, and the Balkans

Sarah H. Cleveland, Louis Henkin Professor of Human and Constitutional Rights, Columbia University School of Law; Member, European Commission for Democracy Through Law (Venice Commission)

Derek Chollet, Executive Vice President and Senior Advisor for Security and Defense Policy, German Marshall Fund of the United States

Zselyke Csaky, Research Director for Europe and Eurasia, Freedom House

Scott Cullinane, Former Professional Staff Member, House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats

Nicholas Danforth, Senior Visiting Fellow, German Marshall Fund of the United States

Larry Diamond, Senior Fellow, Stanford Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies; Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution

Paul Fagan, Director of the Human Rights and Democracy programs, McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State University

Evelyn N. Farkas, Resident Senior Fellow, German Marshall Fund of the United States; National Security Contributor, NBC/MSNBC; former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense

Gregory Feifer, Executive Director, Institute of Current World Affairs

Ambassador Lee Feinstein, Dean, Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies, Indiana University; former U.S. Ambassador to Poland

Jamie Fly, Senior Fellow and Director, Future of Geopolitics Program; Director, Asia Program, The German Marshall Fund of the United States

Ira Forman, Former Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism at the U.S. Department of State; Senior Advisor for Combating Antisemitism, Human Rights First

Joerg Forbrig, Senior Transatlantic Fellow, Central and Eastern Europe and Director, Fund for Belarus Democracy, The German Marshall Fund of the United States

Dr. Francis Fukuyama, Director for Center on Democracy, Development, and Rule of Law; Senior Fellow, Stanford Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies

Charles Gati, Research Professor of European and Eurasian Studies, Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies; former Senior Advisor with the Policy Planning Staff, U.S. Department of State

James Goldgeier, American University

Philip Gordon, Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations; former Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs

Ambassador Michael Guest, Senior Advisor to the Council for Global Equality; former U.S. Ambassador to Romania

Melissa Hooper, Director for Human Rights and Civil Society, Human Rights First

Jonathan Katz, Senior Resident Fellow, German Marshall Fund of the United States; former Deputy Assistant Administrator for Europe and Eurasia, USAID

Ambassador Ian Kelly, former U.S. Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe; former U.S. Ambassador to Georgia

Andrea Kendall-Taylor, Senior Fellow and Director of the Transatlantic Security Program, Center for a New American Security

Carolyn Kenney, Senior Policy Analyst, Center for American Progress

James Kirchick, Visiting Fellow, Center on the United States and Europe, Project on International Order and Strategy, The Brookings Institution

Harold H. Koh, Sterling Professor of International Law, Yale Law School; former Legal Adviser, U.S. Department of State; Former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Richard Kraemer, Fellow, Eurasia Program Foreign Policy Research Institute

David J. Kramer, Former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

William Kristol, Founding Director, Defending Democracy Together

John A. Lindburg, Former General Counsel, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Elisa Massimino, Practitioner-in-Residence, Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University

Ambassador Michael McFaul, Director, Stanford Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies; Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution; former U.S. Ambassador to Russia

Thomas O. Melia, Washington Director, PEN America; former Assistant Administrator for Europe and Eurasia, USAID; former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Molly Montgomery, Non-resident Fellow, Center on the United States and Europe, The Brookings Institution

Joshua Muravchik, Author

Fron Nahzi, Senior Director of Global Development, The McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State University

Sofya Orlosky, Eurasia Program Manager, Freedom House

Valeriu Pasha, Watchdog.MD Community

Alina Polyakova, David M. Rubenstein Fellow, The Brookings Institution

Wojciech Przybylski, Editor-in-chief of Visegrad Insight; Chairman of ResPublica Foundation

Corina Rebegea

Anthony Robinson, Director of Training and Public Engagement, Truman National Security Project

Dalibor Rohac, Research Fellow, American Enterprise Institute

Jonas Rolett, Open Society Policy Center

Gary J. Schmitt, Resident Scholar in Strategic Studies, American Enterprise Institute; former Executive Director of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board

Julianne Smith, Weizsäcker Fellow, Bosch Academy in Berlin; former Deputy National Security Advisor to Vice President Joe Biden

Alice Stollmeyer, Executive Director, Defending Democracy

Jake Sullivan, Lecturer, Yale Law School; former National Security Advisor to Vice President Biden; former Director of Policy Planning, U.S. State Departmen

Torrey Taussig, Non-resident Fellow, The Brookings Institution; Robert Bosch Foundation Fellow

Pranay Vaddi, Fellow, Nuclear Policy Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Daniel Vajdich, Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council; President, Yorktown Solutions; former Senior National Security Adviser, Ted Cruz Campaign

Veronika Velch (Kruglashova),Director of Advocacy, Ridgely Walsh

Ambassador Alexander Vershbow, Distinguished Fellow, Atlantic Council; former U.S. Ambassador to NATO, Russia, and South Korea; former Assistant Secretary of Defense; former NATO Deputy Secretary General

Alyssa Weiner, American Jewish Committee

Kenneth Wollack, Former President of National Democratic Institute

Thomas Wright, Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution