May 18, 2023 - 5:45pm

Nato is currently engaged in the most serious geopolitical conflict since the Vietnam War. You’d therefore expect it to have a laser-like focus on the matter at hand. But apparently not. On Wednesday, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg took time out of his busy schedule to record a video for “International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia”. 

You can see where this is going. Almost every sentence in the one-and-a-half-minute speech sounds like it was crafted by an activist from Stonewall. “Nato’s strength is our diversity,” Stoltenberg explains, “so it is important that we reflect and celebrate the extraordinary diversity of our populations.” Should the organisation be “celebrating” any particular identities? There are plenty of groups doing that already; Nato’s job is meant to be security.

“I value every member of the LGBTQ+ community,” Stoltenberg continues, “and I am proud to call myself your ally.” Is there any need for this? Can’t we just assume that Nato represents every member of the population, regardless of identity, until told otherwise?

What’s more, Stoltenberg’s speech is based on a claim that doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny. He says Nato is an alliance “united by values”. But it’s actually united by geography (hence the “North Atlantic” bit). Indeed, there are major value differences among Nato countries — not least when it comes to tolerance of gay people.

In the latest wave of the World Values Survey (WVS), respondents were shown a list of groups and asked to mention “any that you would not like to have as neighbours”. Results for four member states are shown below. The differences are huge. In Britain less than 4% say they would not like to have homosexuals as neighbours, while in Turkey the figure is more than 75%. 


The WVS also asks whether homosexuality is “justifiable”, with respondents answering on a 10-point scale from “never justifiable” to “always justifiable”. Once again, the differences among member states are huge. Among Brits, 9% say “never justifiable” — compared to 19% of Americans, 44% of Poles and 68% of Turks. Gay pride marches are banned in Turkey, with several hundred people arrested last year. The notion that Nato is “united by values” is plainly false. 

Even Russians are less anti-gay than Turks: 66% say they would not like to have homosexuals as neighbours and 58% say homosexuality is “never justifiable”. So when it comes to tolerance of gay people, Britain and the US are slightly closer to Nato’s main rival than they are to another member of the alliance.

Toward the end of his speech, Stoltenberg states that “we always need to do more” for “diversity and inclusion”. Nato must “uphold our values” and “ensure our alliance truly reflects the one billion people it protects”. Would those be Britain’s values or Turkey’s values? Given the rest of the speech, one assumes the former.

But this raises the question of what “more” Nato is going to do? Will there soon be pressure on Turkey, Poland and other conservative member states to start upholding the same values as a condition of membership? Stoltenberg’s remarks may just be empty rhetoric — but one shouldn’t rule it out.

Noah Carl is an independent researcher and writer.