The Israeli attack on the humanitarian aid flotilla that resulted in the death of 9 people has strained relations within an already tense environment in the NATO alliance. The flotilla left from Turkey and all those who died were Turskish citizens, one of whom also held U.S. citizenship.
The alliance has been especially strained by the rapidly shifting international scene following the fall of the Soviet Union, and more so following the U.S. invasion of Iraq and continued NATO-backed war in Afghanistan. NATO was created as a response to Soviet power. With the USSR gone, it's had to redefine its mission, a job that is not yet complete. Some complaints have been that the US has been pushing for NATO to reach and expand outside its traditional zone of influence to fill in the vacuum left behind by the Soviet collapse, moving into Eastern Europe, becoming active in the Caucasus and even Central Asia through Afghanistan. This has put stress on the alliance, with some questioning its role as an entity that is perhaps crossing the boundary from a defensive alliance to a proactive and expansionist one.
NATO is undergoing an existential crisis in trying to redefine itself following the Cold War and in the face of multiple international powers that have risen to challenge the short span of time in which the U.S. was an uncontested superpower.
After talking to people in NATO headquarters, former British ambassador Craig Murray has said that the recent Israeli attack of the aid ships in international waters has further strained relations between NATO members:
"But what kind of mutual support organisation is NATO when members must make decades long commitments, at huge expense and some loss of life, to support the United States [in Afghanistan], but cannot make even a gesture to support Turkey when Turkey is attacked by a non-member?
"Even the Eastern Europeans have not been backing the U.S. line on the Israeli attack. The atmosphere in NATO on the issue has been very much the U.S. against the rest, with the U.S. attitude inside NATO described to me by a senior NATO officer as "amazingly arrogant -- they don't seem to think it matters what anybody else thinks".
"Therefore what is troubling the hearts and souls of non-Americans in NATO HQ is this fundamental question. Is NATO genuinely a mutual defence organisation, or is it just an instrument to carry out U.S. foreign policy? With its unthinking defence of Israel and military occupation of Afghanistan, is U.S. foreign policy really defending Europe, or is it making the World less safe by causing Islamic militancy?
"I leave the last word to one of the senior NATO officers - who incidentally is not British:
"Nobody but the Americans doubts the U.S. position on the Gaza attack is wrong and insensitve. But everyone already quietly thought the same about wider American policy. This incident has allowed people to start saying that now privately to each other.' "
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