December 2, 2022
Young people will pay the price for Putin’s push to re-enact the Cold War
NATO Exercise Trident Juncture, 2018. Bringing together 50,000 personnel from all 29 Allies plus partners Finland and Sweden.
Hungary is set to approve NATO’s expansion by mid-December.
The announcement from Budapest leaves Turkey as the last country holding against the inclusion of Sweden and Finland – both countries applied for membership soon after Russia attacked Ukraine – into the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. The decision to expand has to be taken unilaterally by all member-states of the Alliance.
The president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, objects to NATO expansion because he accuses Sweden and Finland of allowing Kurdish individuals, whom Turkey considers to be terrorists, to reside in their countries.
As Financial Times’ Gideon Rachman pointed out, Erdoğan’s definition of terrorism is deeply politicised: an opposition Kurdish politician, Selahattin Demirtas, was arrested in 2016 despite the European Court of Human Rights’ ruling that he should be released; businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala was sentenced to imprisonment for life without parole for plotting a coup, despite very weak evidence; seven of Kavala’s co-defendants’ received sentences of up to 18 years.
Another analyst, Ilhan Uzgel, stated the reason for Erdoğan’s insistence on keeping his position against Sweden and Finland joining NATO runs deeper than Erdoğan’s accusations. Uzgel believes that it is the election scheduled for June 2023 driving Erdoğan, who needs to be seen as a partner to the US.
“It can be either a meeting with [U.S. President Joe] Biden; it can be the purchase of F-16 fighter jets from the United States, [or] external support during the elections. Something that will help Erdogan get into a better position before the elections,” Uzgel argued.
It is reasonable to expect that the last country blocking NATO expansion will then cease to object by mid-2023. It is important to explore the ramifications.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is a defensive military alliance, founded in 1949 to assure collective security through political and military means. At the time, it was the west’s answer to the challenge posed by the Soviet Union (USSR). “An attack on one is an attack on all” warned the famous Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty.
Since the collapse of the USSR, NATO accepted a group of countries formerly belonging to Moscow’s sphere of influence. Currently, NATO consists of 30-member states, 28 of which are based in Europe and two (the United States and Canada) across the Atlantic. Ever since the Cold War, Sweden and Finland had kept a neutral stance, and even though the Soviet Union imploded, neither Helsinki nor Stockholm believed there was a reason to be too worried about Moscow.
This, however, changed abruptly following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. During the Madrid NATO summit in June, allied leaders and their key European and Asian partners aimed at “strengthening the rules-based international order”. During the Summit, Sweden and Finland, which both applied for membership in May, were invited to become members of NATO – a path which is required for all current member states to ratify the expansion.
Madrid NATO summit, June 2022
The summit strengthened all key elements of NATO. It was necessary, as Russian president Vladimir Putin pushed for the re-enactment of the Cold War. Yet, there is no reason to cheer.
Thousands of people protested in Madrid a week before the NATO summit took place. Protestors carried a variety of pacifist banners, including the hammer and sickle flags of the Soviet Union, and sang “Tanks yes, but of beer with tapas”.
Concha Hoyos, a retired Madrid resident, told Reuters reporters: “The solution they propose is more arms and wars and we always pay for it. Leave us alone, without wars and weapons”. Ms Hoyos noted how western leaders seem to have embraced the political challenge posed by Vladimir Putin.
The risk posed for the youth is twofold. Firstly, the increasingly heated international stage puts young people closer to the battlefields than they have been for a long time. Secondly, a global cost of living crisis combined with elevated military budgets hardly gives any hope for the most pressing issues concerning young people to be properly addressed/funded.
Restoration of the Cold War is the last thing we need in the face of the climate crisis. Now more than ever, what we need is more cooperation between countries.
It increasingly feels as though teenagers, instead of being at school, are the ones who take to the streets over and over again to bring attention to the importance and cruciality of saving humanity’s future. Meanwhile, the older generation, from which the supposed leaders of our world recruit, seems to have decided that bombs and tanks are the solution to the problems we all face.
Earth Day climate strike, in Pittsburgh, 2022
After World War 1, Gertrude Stein told young Ernest Hemingway: “All of you young people who served in the war. . . . You are all a lost generation”. The lack of commitment and attention to the climate crisis, compared to the massive amount of attention which Putin’s push to re-enact the Cold War was met with, makes me question if their plan was to send my generation back to the battlefields and exclaim their last ‘hoorah’.
It seems leaders are thinking short-term, but NATO itself and other global security treaties of today would not matter at all if we cannot exist as a civilisation in several decades time.