NATO After Brexit

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was founded to safeguard the freedom and security of the West during the Cold War. It has adapted to the collapse of the Soviet Union – but can it weather the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union?


AVIGNON – On July 8-9, the 28 heads of state and government of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization will meet in Warsaw to address three key objectives: enhancing NATO’s collective defense and deterrence, projecting stability beyond the Alliance’s borders, and expanding cooperation with a crisis-ridden European Union.

That, at least, is how the organization’s deputy secretary-general put the agenda. But brave words about NATO solidarity cannot hide the challenges confronting the world’s most durable military alliance.

One challenge is obvious. How can, or should, NATO respond to the calibrated aggressions – actual and threatened – of Vladimir Putin’s Russia? A less obvious concern is how to stump up the money (only a handful of member states fulfill the official commitment to furnish a defense budget equal to 2% of GDP). And a third challenge is how to respond to the United Kingdom’s decision to exit the EU.

The Trump Factor

None of this will be easy. As Ana Palacio, a former Spanish foreign minister, points out, “EU leaders’ focus on internal problems has caused them largely to neglect external policies, particularly in the area of security.” For NATO, the negative effects of Europe’s inward focus would be compounded if Donald Trump becomes the next president of the United States. That prospect may still seem very unlikely, but Trump’s isolationist rhetoric is ringing plenty of alarm bells in NATO capitals (as well as in Mexico, Japan, South Korea, and virtually every country that benefits from America’s security umbrella).