A critical look at NATO


One day prior to the NATO summit with President Donald Trump, I visited the organization’s headquarters. I met some of the officials including Ambassador Saeed Al-Kabi, permanent ambassador of the UAE to NATO, as well as Mr. Nedal Al-Fallasi, Chargé d’Affaires of the UAE. They honored me with their time and gave me a great deal of information regarding the mechanisms of decision-making at NATO. They then took me on a tour of NATO headquarters, which dates back to the 1960s.

According to the ambassador, the headquarters was an airbase used by the Germans during World War II. It was built in haste when NATO was forced to leave Paris upon the withdrawal of France from the organization in 1966. On the opposite side of the road, we saw the new NATO headquarters, which is a huge claw-shaped building constructed of steel and glass at an estimated cost of one billion euros.

The conversation with the ambassador revolved around his view of the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI). He said that since its accession to the ICI in 2004, the UAE has made a significant contribution to NATO’s efforts in the establishment of peace and security in Afghanistan and Libya. In addition, it has played an active and effective humanitarian role in Afghanistan in support of international efforts in reconstruction, relief and the provision of services and education.

In another vein, through its cooperation with NATO, the UAE has sought to benefit from the expertise of the organization in the development of education, training and practical cooperation. Hence, the ambassador believes in the importance of cooperation with NATO in various fields, including the exchange of technical and defense expertise, benefitting from the expertise of the organization in training and the exchange of information.

Within the framework of my visit, I met with Mr. Nicola de Santis, Head of the Middle East and North Africa section at NATO. We had a long and enjoyable conversation on many issues of the organization such as the Trump administration, the upcoming NATO summit, the changing role of NATO after the Cold War, intervention in Afghanistan and Libya, and the ICI.

De Santis noted that Trump has changed since being elected president. During his election campaign, he accused NATO of being an outdated organization, but he now calls for NATO to be maintained, describing it as a vital necessity to Washington and its European allies.

As regards the changing role of NATO after the Cold War, de Santis confirmed that its role changed from facing the direct threat seen in the Warsaw Pact during the Cold War to the establishment of peace and security in Europe. Thus, NATO’s role changed from being a tool for collective defense to being a joint organization seeking to face threats undermining the security of member states. However, he added that the primary mission of NATO, i.e. collective defense, is still in effect as seen in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on the USA.

In response to my question regarding his view on the ICI, de Santis said that the initiative sent a positive message that peace and security in the Gulf region is essential to NATO, and likewise that peace and security in Europe is essential to the Gulf region. He said that, over ten years, relations with Gulf countries involved in the ICI have become stronger and deeper. De Santis said that, although Saudi Arabia and Oman are not yet part of the ICI, they have become closer to NATO. Attempts by the two states to be included in the ICI are still ongoing.

Dr. Ibrahim Al-Othaimin is a Middle East affairs specialist and security analyst based in Riyadh. He can be contacted at Ibrahim.othaimin@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @Alothaimin