The Liberal Democrats have called on NATO to suspend Turkey from the military alliance because of the Turkish government’s recent crackdown on dissent following the failed coup d’etat in the country. The Lib Dems claim that the actions by the Turkish government violate “the principles of liberty, democracy, and rule of law that NATO upholds”. This response illustrates why political discourse in foreign policy is so poorly understood as people ascribe qualities to an institution rather than what the institution actually stands for.
The Lib Dems think that NATO stands for defending liberty, democracy and the rule of law, however this is clearly not true. What was the purpose of NATO when it was first created? Was it to ensure democracy? Was it to defend civil liberties? No, it was a project built on foreign policy realism to prevent the Soviet Union from attacking Europe. It was an alliance of the capitalist powers to contain, as George Kennan would say, the ‘red menace’. So claim that NATO was about promote liberal values is complete nonsense. Indeed this is what the first NATO Secretary General Lord Islay said was the purpose of the organisation: “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down”. NATO is not a project to preserve liberal values, it exists purely to prevent the Russians from invading Europe.
Don’t get me wrong, the Turkish government are incredibly repressive and if NATO was an organisation designed to promote and protect liberal values I would agree with the party. However let’s now look at the hypocrisy of the Lib Dems. In 2002 when the USA converted it’s naval base in Guantanamo Bay into an extra-judicial prison, did the Lib Dems call for the US to be kicked out of NATO? When the US passed the 2001 USA PATRIOT Act, which severely infringed upon the civil liberties of American citizens, where were the Lib Dems? They did condemn the increased surveillance in the US, but there was no mention of NATO suspension.
But this is not only to do with the US. When Polish President Andrzej Duda signed a law that increased press censorship in January 2016, were the Lib Dems calling on Poland’s suspension from NATO? No. Did the Lib Dems demand suspension when Viktor Orban made the Hungarian government more authoritarian? No. In the UK, when the Tories tried to introduce the Snooper’s Charter whilst the Lib Dems were in coalition, did the Lib Dems publicly say that if it were adopted the UK should immediately leave NATO? No. For some reason Turkey is the only case where the Lib Dems believe that action should be taken.
NATO is a relic of the Cold War that should no longer exist, but as long as it does exist let’s be clear why it does. It was not formed as a liberal institution to protect civil liberties and democracy. It was created on the basis of collective security against Soviet, and now Russian, aggression. Many of the countries in the alliance have increasingly authoritarian governments, and the Lib Dems have not called on Hungary, Poland, the US or the UK to be expelled from the alliance. This is clear hypocrisy and must be called out as such.