The previous week some declarations showed that the US President Donald Trump wants to expand NATO’s role and influence in the Middle East. Although there are serious security reasons in the region, it’s about a risky initiative which may create more problems than it is going to solve.
The “moving sand” of the Middle East
To begin with, this part of the world is unique. It is the “birthplace” of the Islamic Terrorism and the cradle of maybe the most dynamic religion, Islam. So, a possible expansion to the Middle East will cause problems because its member-states will be more vulnerable to terrorist attacks. It should be noted that the European member-states have a cohesive Muslim communities in their soil and some of their members are former fighters of ISIS. The growing radicalization may create several challenges. In other words, NATO will inherit more security problems than it can handle. Additionally, a movement like this will cause tensions among the Middle Eastern countries. More specifically, states such as Iran and Syria will see it as a threat for their territory and it is expected to become more aggressive. On the other hand, friendly to USA countries such as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States it is possible to distance themselves due to their fear of anti- Western demonstrations. The anti- Western ideology has not disappeared and it will be a good chance for radical Islamic groups such as the Islamic State to exploit this feeling and with a good propaganda to destabilize further that region. Last but not least, an enlargement like this will transmit the message that the Western imperialism is back.
Another reason why this action is not a good one is the reactions of other countries, out of the Middle East, that it will provoke. Russia and China, both stronger than they were in the past and with an involvement and serious interests in that area, are the most important of them. NATO’s expansion will be faced as a threat and the peculiar competition between the West and those two states will be more intense. Also, it may lead to a coiling between Russia, China which will include and other non pro-Western states in an Eurasian block. It will be a very difficult opponent for NATO and the West.
Moreover, this expansion may come up to an overextension of Alliance’s operational and political capabilities. The Middle East is not as same as Europe. It has a lot of differences. It is a territory which begins from the Central Asia (Afghanistan) and finishes in the Mediterranean Sea, while from north to south it begins from Turkey and ends in Iran and the Arabian Peninsula! It is a very difficult and peculiar operational environment. At the same time, the political status differs from state to state and it is strange to understand for the Western political systems. It is doubtful, that NATO has the means to support an expansion like that. Even with the forge of other alliances, it would be extremely difficult. It’s about a new place with numerous challenges. NATO has not the previous experience and this is a disadvantage. An expansion will leave possibly a security gap in Europe which may have as a result its exploitation by Russia as well.
The developments inside the Alliance are another reason why this action should not be taken. First of all, the consensus and the legalization of this project concerning mainly the European countries are not guaranteed. The European society is not a supporter of this expansion because it perceives it as an alternative form of imperialism. Secondly, the relations between the members are not cordial. In autumn 2019, NATO saw two of its members, Turkey and France, in confrintation. The statements of the French side about the unfavorable status of the Alliance and the strong reaction from the Turkish president Recep Erdogan were signs that at the core of the North Atlantic Organization there is no a harmony. Further expansion logically will deteriorate any confrontations. For example, Poland probably won’t be in favor of this expansion because of its feeling of safety with NATO troops in its soil. Poland’s enemy is Russia and not Iran. The interests are several and different among the countries, so tensions will be appeared.
The inheritance of problems not concerning the Alliance, possible intra-Alliance quarrels, social reaction, problems with friendly countries and a thickness of the security system in Europe are the most notable reasons why the “NATO-ME” initiative is not a good idea. The risks are many and in my opinion it is not welcomed by some of the member-states.
It is necessary this idea to be reexamined and to express their opinions all the members. Trump’s designs are new and not so indispensable for the Organization at this moment. There is another way, more clement and NATO can solve the problems which are coming from the Middle East with the means it has now.