A crisis of confidence

Let NATO banish Turkey from its midst.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech during an iftar event in Ankara, Turkey, June 27, 2016 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech during an iftar event in Ankara, Turkey, June 27, 2016
(photo credit: REUTERS)
According to the latest polls, Donald Trump may soon be elected president of the United States.
Trump is but one manifestation of a wider trend in Western democracies, that of political extremism. In Poland and Hungary, ultra-right-wing conservatives have swept into power and began to alter their nations’ democratic institutions, including the media and the judiciary. In Israel right-wing parties have fused political ideology with religious zeal, while in France Marine Le Penn has become a viable candidate for the presidency. Yet the trend of political extremism is also evident in the strengthening of far-left political movements including the Tsipras government in Greece, the reelection of Jeremy Corbin in the British Labour Party and the huge movement that supported Bernie Sanders in the US.
Throughout the West, the political center is losing ground as people migrate to the margins. This is not simply a result of immigration policies, social inequalities or Russian disinformation as some pundits have recently argued. Rather, it is the result of a crisis of confidence in the organizations established by Western countries to safeguard democracy as these now favor compromise over ideals and values.
One notable example is NATO’s relationship with Turkey. While NATO was conceived as a military alliance that could act as a counterweight to the Soviet Union, it was also an instrument for spreading and strengthening democracy throughout Europe. Its very charter states the NATO was founded on the principles of democracy and individual liberty. However, Turkey is one member state that has abandoned the struggle for democracy. Under the leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey has transitioned from a liberal democracy to a religious autocracy.
The recent coup attempt has only emboldened Erdogan to rid Turkey of its remaining democratic institutions, including the Supreme Court, the free media and political opposition.
YET NATO refuses to confront Erdogan.
Officials in Brussels fear that such a confrontation would lead Turkey into the hands of Russia, at best, or into war with Greece at the worst. And so pragmatism trumps idealism. Yet it is exactly such pragmatism that leads Americans to support Trump or the French to support Le Penn. For either NATO is committed to democracy, or it is committed to hypocrisy. One cannot talk about commitment to freedom and liberty while allowing an autocrat such as Erdogan to thrive.
The UN is another institution in which the gap between word and deed continues to grow. While the UN has always been characterized by hypocrisy, boasting Saudi Arabia and Qatar as members of its Human Rights Council, it is now also characterized by immorality.
While UN ambassadors exchange blows, the carnage of the Syrian civil war is allowed to continue. Barrel bombs, summary executions and the starvation of civilian populations all go unchecked while world powers stand by helpless. Every day the carnage in Syria continues, more people lose faith in democracy and begin their journey toward the political fringes.
Finally, the EU has also lost its bearings.
Brexit was a national vote of no confidence in the EU and its leaders.
Yet remarkably, none of the EU leaders have felt the need to resign their post or begin a process of introspection and reform. How can the EU continue without reforms and a new leadership after losing such a pivotal member as the UK? The answer is that within the EU bureaucracy trumps accountability.
But as long as the stagnation in the EU continuous, more of its citizens will call for its abolishment. Far-right and -left leaders in the Netherlands, France, Denmark and Austria are already capitalizing on this reality.
The only way to counter extremism of any kind, be it religious, racial or political is to address its root causes.
What we are witnessing in the West is not a crisis of democracy but a crisis of confidence in the institutions of democracy. To regain the trust of their constituents, these institutions must reaffirm their commitment to the values of democracy and narrow the gap between word and deed.
Let NATO banish Turkey from its midst. Let Erdogan run into the embrace of the erratic and bankrupt Russian President Vladimir Putin. Yet make this banishment so loud that every citizen in every nation will finally know what NATO stands for. Let the Western democracies call for daily vote on the Syrian civil war in the Security Council and shame Russia into altering its policies. If shame fails, let the same countries admit that the solution to the war will not emanate from within the UN, and so begin to act outside its confines. Let the UK conclude its Brexit, yet at the same time revitalize and reform the EU so that its citizens may witness its resilience and relevance. It is only by matching deeds to words that political extremism can be countered.
The author is a PhD candidate in diplomacy at the University of Oxford.