By Daniel Pipes
November 17, 2018
Nozhan Etezadosaltaneh interviewed Daniel Pipes on Oct. 3, 2018. The interview opens with a reasonably objective paragraph sketching the interviewee's biography. The English version below expands on the Persian version.
What is the main challenge facing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)?
To figure out why it still exists, 29 years after the Berlin Wall came down, and what its mission is.
NATO is often seen as an organization created to counter the Soviet threat; does it have a purpose, so long after the collapse of the Soviet Union?
It does. The Washington Treaty that established NATO's mission on April 4, 1949, set forth a general goal for the alliance, not one specific to the Soviet Union. Its purpose was defined to "safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilization of member states' peoples founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty, and the rule of law." Thus, NATO came into existence to protect Western civilization. For 42 years, that meant focusing primarily on the communist threat coming out of the U.S.S.R. With that danger now gone, NATO must consider other threats, the foremost of which is Islamism; Russia and China are others.
Practically, what does this mean?
NATO's Article 5, the one that demands "collective self-defence," has been invoked only once: not against the Soviet, Chinese, North Korean, Vietnamese, or Cuban Communists but Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan one day after the 9/11 attack. That was one small part of the Islamist movement; the rest of the Islamist movement should likewise be a NATO goal.
What is NATO's main strength and weakness?
Its strength lies in being a long-lasting alliance of like-minded sovereign countries. Its weakness lies in the murkiness of its current role.
What will be the future role of non-European democracies like Australia and Japan in NATO?
With the passage of time, I expect the North Atlantic character of the alliance to fade in importance as relations grow with key states in other regions, such as, as you mentioned, Australia and Japan.
Do you expect NATO to expand?
Yes, I expect and hope so. I go further and hope to see it as the incipient United Nations for democracies, eventually pushing aside the existing United Nations. How can states vote democratically when some of them are dictatorships? The current situation is illogical and dysfunctional.
How does Donald Trump see NATO?
He shows little regard for it, viewing Russia more favourably and allies less favourably than has been the historic norm.
Trump stated that America's NATO allies do not pay their share of the military budget, putting too much of NATO's financial burden on the United States. Is he right?
He is correct that, with only a few exceptions, most NATO members do not pay their share of the joint military costs. But this also brings benefits to the United States, giving it the opportunity to dominate Western military issues; that would not be the case if it paid a smaller percentage of the costs. Some increased spending by the allies is desirable but it need not be their full share.
Will be the impact of Trump's criticism along with a reduction of the proportion of U.S. spending on NATO weaken NATO?
It's too early to tell. Many institutional forces are resisting him.
Can other NATO members maintain NATO's strength in the face of Trump's changes?
Yes, and I actually see a silver lining in the American retreat. The U.S. government has for so long served as the responsible adult – since World War II – that the political and military maturity of its allies has atrophied. By shouldering less of the burden, Washington compels allied governments to wake up, be more serious, and do more.
Trump has better relations with Hungary, Poland, and other eastern European countries than with Western Europe; how does this affect NATO?
It's a mixed situation: the Polish government is perhaps the most anti-Moscow one in Europe and the Hungarian is about the most pro-Putin.
Do you think the issues raised about Trump's connections to Russia should concern NATO?
Yes, especially as we do not know the full extent of those connections. What Trump may be hiding presents problems to both the American public and to NATO allies. By the way, if the Democrats win one or both houses of Congress in November 2018, they will likely release Trump's tax returns, which will provide some insight into this topic.
Does Trump comply with Vladimir Putin's wishes?
Sometimes, but inconsistently. More than almost anyone in the United States, Trump seems to see Putin as a potential ally.
Is the Putin-Trump alignment coincidental or intentional?
Intentional. Trump admires and defers to Putin, as became clear in their joint Helsinki press conference in July 2018.
Does this harm NATO?
No, as I suggested above, this is a bracing tonic for the Europeans, who must take more responsibility for their security than in the past 70 years.
Is military conflict possible between Russia and the eastern European countries?
Yes, just as Putin invaded Ukraine, he could invade the Baltic States or Poland.
How does the increased popularity of far-right parties in NATO member countries effect the alliance, especially given their generally pro-Russian policies?
As the parties you call far-right (and I call civilisationist) grow in size and increase in power, I expect their foreign policies will mature. Among other things, this means they will become more critical of Putin, as PiS in Poland already is.
Is NATO cooperating with Russia fighting Islamist terrorism?
Very little. In some theatres – Syria and Iraq especially – the two powers are on opposite sides. In others, they simply do not coordinate.
Turkey, with the second largest armed forces in NATO, currently has very tense relations with Washington and is approaching Iran, Russia, and China; does this endanger NATO?
No. The states you mention either have limited benefits to offer Turkey (Iran) or severe policy differences (Russia) or intractable ethnic/religious problems (China). Turkey's only real choice is NATO or isolation.
How do you assess Turkey's role in NATO?
Ankara takes steps hostile to NATO and obstructs its necessary focus on Islamism. In many ways, Ankara has gone over to the enemy camp. It is more a problem than an asset for the alliance.
What about the growth of authoritarian tendencies in NATO member states?
Authoritarianism is on the rise in what is perhaps a cyclical reaction to the perceived failures of democracy.
Can NATO force its members into more democratic behavior?
No, it's a true alliance not a coercive pact. It can, however, apply pressure and provide incentives.
Compare Hungary and Turkey, both with authoritarian regimes.
NATO's relations with these two states differ fundamentally. Hungary under Viktor Orbán is authoritarian but it remains a loyal ally and has not arbitrarily locked up large numbers of citizens; in this, it somewhat resembles Spain and Portugal in their early NATO years. Turkey under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is a very different story, becoming hostile, aggressive, and a major human rights abuser.
And policy toward these two countries?
I hope the leadership will make efforts to bring Hungary back toward full democracy, while sidelining Turkey.
Why not just expel Turkey from NATO?
Because NATO lacks a mechanism for expelling a member.
Do you expect Turkey's level of participation in NATO to be reduced?
Yes, I foresee a "shadow NATO" emerging in which the other members exclude Turkey from arms sales, intelligence sharing, diplomatic initiatives, and so on. You can think of Ankara as the unpopular student in high school.