The NATO Foreign Ministers have met in Antalya, Turkey, instead of Brussels. Various public diplomacy activities were organized as well. I think this is great, as Turkey is at a NATO “front-line” and has also been drifting away from the West as the AKP policies and public opinion polls by the German Marshall Fund’s Transatlantic Trends have shown in recent years. Thus, any policy or gesture to reverse the trend is welcome.
What has been going viral from the meeting, however, is something else. A video of senior leaders singing “We are the World,” often with critical comments:
Hurriyet explains the context that is missing in many social media posts:
After the meal, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu took to the stage to thank the Enbe Orchestra that had played for the guests. The orchestra offered the ministers to sing a last song “for peace.” Çavuşoğlu invited other ministers to the stage, with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias joining his Turkish counterpart first of all. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and EU High Representative Federica Mogherini then joined to sing along.
So, the song seems to have been an initiative by the Turkish hosts, the band or the foreign minister. Not NATO. And the Turkish minister started with his Greek counterpart. The others might have considered this a nice gesture given the stupid tensions between the two allies and thus joined the fun. I doubt, however, that the NATO Secretary General and the EU High Representative singing next to each other is still so special that it would make other participants warm and fuzzy. The EU-NATO “frozen conflict” or rivalry is overblown, I hope.
Of course, nobody should read too much into the video, but of course, it sends the wrong message for many and is perceived negatively. NATO is not the world and should not pretend to be world regardless of the massive UN failures. Whenever alliances like NATO give themselves more legitimacy than they have and more than once stretch the boundaries of international law and the scope of UN mandates, even with the best of intentions and for a good cause like in Kosovo and Libya, then they give others a bad and unjustified excuse for illegal invasions and make public diplomacy more difficult.
“We are the world” is a charity song recorded by US musicians with the best of intentions 30 years ago in light of the famine in Ethiopia, but is today often derided as an example of the a white savior (industrial) complex.
Steve Saideman from Carleton University asks/comments:
Is this a sign of weakness or of strength? Is this an FU to Putin, that NATO is so strong it can indulge in such silliness? Not unlike the costumes leaders wear for Asia Pacific meetings? Or does it demonstrate that NATO cannot even sing well and that it picks an arrogant, condescending song?
Another PoliSci professor on Facebook:
For the cost of NATO's war in Libya they could have provided treated bednets to save every child in Africa that will die from malaria (or prevent the spread in any event)...
One of many critical tweets:
NATO needs a great anthem
The European Union uses Ode to Joy as their European Anthem. It’s very effective. Whenever I hear it, I forget the lame EU bureaucracy, inefficiencies, waste, stupidity for four minutes and I accept the EU's faults and believe in its vision for another four years until I hear Ode to Joy again.
NATO has a hymn, but it does not sound inspiring to me and I have no information about its background and meaning. Imagine what a great song could do for NATO… Not only for foreign ministers to sing after a few beers, but for strengthening the transatlantic bond in general. Seriously. I am at least half serious.
What would be a good song, hymn or an (unofficial) anthem for NATO?
1. US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland had a great suggestion:
When people ask me what NATO is for after we stop fighting in Afghanistan, I invariably hear the Ghost Busters theme song in my head: "Who ya gonna call?"
It’s fitting as many people criticize and don’t see NATO’s relevance but when the shit hits the fan, they rely on NATO. Too much self-deprecating humor for you? You want something more serious?
2. Here’s another idea: I very much like Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms. It’s sad, but uplifting. The BBC produced a podcast about "Brothers in Arms"' enduring appeal for its "Soul Music" series. It's 30min long with a boring beginning, but gets better. Apparently, the song plays an important part in the lives of soldiers in Iran and Afghanistan and is often heard at military funerals. The "West Wing" TV series turned this dark music into a song of defiance and leadership. But very cheesy as everything Sorkin has done. "Brothers in Arms" is played in its entirety at the end of the 2nd season's final episode, one of the best episodes in US television according to James Lipton (and me).
3. Brothers in Arms is too somber? You want more joy like in the European Anthem, but without the pomp? And without the missionary zeal of We are the World. Okay, how about the modern Scottish love song “Walking on Waves” by Skipinnish. NATO can celebrate with this song the Euro-Atlantic bond which is not directed against anyone, but still sends a powerful message of deterrence: With the right partners we are happy, united, empowered, and can walk on waves:
Two years ago Skipinnish released the album “Atlantic Roar”. Good ceilidh music, not at all an aggressive roar. I like the idea of an Atlantic Roar. I like the word “roar” in general -- and also “oomph”. The Economist uses that word surprisingly often and argued some months ago, that the West needs to get its oomph back. Music helps, obviously.
I admit that I have not found the perfect anthem of NATO yet. What song do you suggest?
Endnote: Steve Saideman has a “NATO In Afghanistan” playlist