WASHINGTON – The North Atlantic Treaty Organization could be heading for a power shift, based on the impact of the economic uncertainties its members are facing and the results of the recent elections in Europe.
The heads of the 28 NATO member countries and other invited partner countries were in the United States for a two-day summit recently in Chicago. Several official announcements were made regarding NATO policy for the near future, including the Chicago Summit Declaration on Afghanistan; the Deterrence and Defense Posture Review; and the Summit Declaration on Defense Capabilities: Toward NATO Forces 2020.
Included was an acknowledgment from NATO’s leadership that recognizes the current economic difficulties of several of its members. Point five of the Deterrence and Defense Posture Review reads:
The current economic environment is a challenging one, as evidenced by recent reductions in many Allies’ defense budgets and the probability of further cuts. In particular, Allies recognize that the challenge of maintaining modern, effective conventional forces is especially acute in an era of limited budgets. Allies are committed to the maintenance of the full range of capabilities necessary to meet the Alliance’s level of ambition despite these financial difficulties, and are developing innovative approaches to cooperating in the development of our capabilities to help achieve this goal.
With the election of Monsieur Hollande in France, the commitment to saving the euro through austerity may be in jeopardy. Hollande, of the Socialist Party, is committed to a French withdrawal from Afghanistan ahead of the agreed 2014 date, and to raising top French income tax rates to 75 percent.
A further European economic stagnation that affects France and other major NATO members could reduce the fighting potential of the alliance, as defense budgets are being cut throughout the alliance.
Also, the United States continues to face economic difficulties. The economy of NATO’s wealthiest and most populous member only grew by only 2.2 percent in the first quarter of 2012.
Meanwhile Turkey, the first Islamic member of NATO – Albania joined the alliance in 2009 – continues to enjoy significant economic growth.
In 2011 the Turkish employment rose by 1.3 million jobs; the economy grew by 8.5 percent.
In 2011 the EU spokesman for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of the Justice and Development Party announced a plan to add 500,000 career soldiers to the Turkish military. The Turkish Land Forces currently depend on conscripts.
The plans could see the Turkish army replace the U.S. Army as the largest active duty land force in NATO. Currently Turkey has the second fastest economic growth rate of a country in the G20; the People’s Republic of China is ranked first.
That’s even as other Western European members of NATO continue to stagnate militarily. The British army is set to shrink to a force of fewer than 100,000 soldiers by 2020. The Royal Navy is scheduled to decommission its last remaining aircraft carrier in 2014, and is expected to be without an aircraft carrier until at least 2016.
The French National Navy currently operates one aircraft carrier as well.
Analysts confirm the ultimate results could be that the Turkish military may become the most important component of NATO’s European presence.