June 23, 2016 | By Ivo H. Daalder

This Week’s Reads — Transatlantic Threats

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg chairs a NATO defense ministers meeting at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, June 14, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

What is the role of NATO in 2016 and beyond? This question will underpin much of next month’s NATO Summit in Warsaw, Poland, where leaders from across the Atlantic will gather to discuss new and emerging threats to the alliance. Given the diverse set of interests between the 28 member states, the answer is complicated.

There is no shortage of security crises affecting NATO allies. In the Middle East, there’s the urgent task of beating back ISIS and its affiliates. The Syrian Civil War, meanwhile, is hemorrhaging refugees into southern Europe and putting immense pressure on Turkey. Then there is the challenge of deterring Russia from further aggression in Ukraine and the Baltic states. 

These all pose significant challenges. And yet, the larger threat to the NATO alliance comes from within. On both sides of the Atlantic, nations are looking inward and turning toward nationalistic leaders who want to shirk global responsibilities. The most immediate example of this can be seen in this week’s British referendum to leave the European Union, or “Brexit.” But similar stories are cropping up elsewhere, in Hungary and, of course, in the United States.

NATO is still the world’s premier multinational political-military organization, but whether or not it remains so will ultimately depend on its members’ ability to fend off these corrosive, nationalistic forces within. This week’s reads looks at both the internal and external challenges confronting the NATO allies.

Unity of the West at Stake in Warsaw

Stefano Stefanini/European Leadership Network

The upcoming Warsaw Summit will test whether NATO is still relevant and capable of tackling the challenges of today, writes Stefano Stefanini. Europe faces increasingly complicated threats, and NATO must consider whether it is capable of preparing only for one kind of threat—a conventional, state-on-state conflict—or whether  threats extend beyond Russian aggression—especially as Russia and the NATO nations now share vulnerabilities from the Middle East and North Africa. Stefanini recommends that NATO address this by giving the MENA region appropriate attention, equipping itself against counterterrorism and working toward engaging more with Russia to increase transparency.

Shifting Attention to Mediterranean, NATO Fights Internal Dissent

Steven Erlanger/The New York Times

The secretary general of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, has said that the alliance is discussing how to step up its presence in the Mediterranean in order to address the migrant crisis, even though not all NATO allies favor a move to scale up action. Turkey for one believes that the alliance’s limited resources should be focused on deterring Russia. Nevertheless, there is a general consensus that NATO members need to determine what its role will be in fighting terrorism and radical Islam, as well as addressing migration and unrest in the Middle East and North Africa.

Regardless of ‘Brexit’ Vote, Experts Say, European Union Must Rethink Status Quo

Jim Yardley/The New York Times

While the British desire to leave the European Union may be due to internal factors, experts say it is also largely due the European Union’s own failures. Dissatisfaction with the European Union has also caused xenophobic, reactionary parties and leaders to rise. Experts warn that if the European Union wants to stabilize, it must work to address a number of issues, including the structure of the euro zone, its Germany-centric policy focus, the refugee crisis, the rise of xenophobia, and disparities across its countries. These reforms will be necessary regardless of whether Britain stays or goes.

From Great Britain to Little England

Neal Ascherson/The New York Times

Rising xenophobia and resentment toward the European Union have been behind the Leave campaign in Europe, argues Neal Ascherson. But a deeper British, particularly English, sentiment of being separate from Europe has also been an important driver; English discontent and a feeling of underrepresentation is a large motivator. Ascherson argues, however, that citizens should have looked to London’s politics rather than politics in Brussels to remedy this issue. Leaving Europe will not grant English citizens more control but rather leave their country less regulated, more unequal, and without access to the single EU market.

What Obama Actually Thinks About Radical Islam

Jeffrey Goldberg/The Atlantic

Despite criticism from Trump and others, Jeffrey Goldberg says President Obama’s commitment to fighting radical Islam is unquestionable. The criticism stems from Obama’s desire to avoid alienating Muslims around the world by using the term “radical Islam” and painting them with a broad brush. But according to Goldberg, this resistance to the phrase this does not mean Obama is indifferent about fighting the threat.

American Attitudes on Refugees from the Middle East

​Shibley Telhami/Brookings Institution

As the global refugee crisis escalates, American willingness to accept refugees from the Middle East has become a prominent issue in the presidential race. Shibley Telhami surveyed the American public and found that 59 percent of respondents supported the United States taking in more refugees from the Middle East and Syria (assuming they have been through security checks). Democrats and millennials were on average more likely to be supportive of accepting refugees, and Trump supporters were more opposed to taking in refugees than Republicans on average.

Before Obama Leaves Offices, Here’s What He Should Do about Iran

​Zalmay Khalilzad and James Dobbins/The Washington Post

As President Obama’s term comes to a close, Zalmay Khalilzad and James Dobbins recommend he work to establish a favorable balance of power with Iran—working with partners to limit threats from the regime but also engaging Iran to settle regional conflicts and defeat ISIS. The authors also contend that Obama should enhance communication between the two countries so that contact is maintained beyond small inner circles. Whether it’s through a full resumption of diplomatic relations or something more incremental, Khalilzad and Dobbins believe the Middle East can only be stabilized when the United States engages directly with Iran.​

Obama’s Drone Revamp Gives Military Bigger Responsibility, Keeps CIA Role

Adam Entous and Gordon Lubold/The Wall Street Journal

A long-promised plan by President Obama allows for increased transparency around drone strikes and helps settle a debate regarding the CIA’s quasi-military role. The plan involves last-minute military takeovers of drones on CIA missions. If the military takes control right before missiles are launched, then the US military will technically be responsible for the strikes—even when the CIA’s drones and intelligence are used. That would allow the operations to be disclosed after the fact, adding transparency to help counter the narrative that US drone strike use is heavy-handed. 


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