by Liviu Tatu, July 11, 2016
Almost all North-Atlantic Alliance summits are probably the most awaited events by member states to project strategic guidance for policy, security and defense over the next two years. The NATO Summit of July 8-9, organized in the town of the most known Polish composer in history – Frederic Chopin, was dedicated to all the threats that are piquing the North-Atlantic region, but was in essence a high level meeting for defending the Eastern Flank against the old Cold War enemy that has embarked in the most aggressive way since the collapse of the Soviet Union against peace and stability in Europe.
The growing peripheral threats NATO faces today
NATO is facing these days a jarring environment with different volatile and dangerously dynamic threats. All NATO leaders must once and for all understand that security cannot be taken for granted. Looking back to the Wales Summit, we can easily observe that only a few member states have achieved (and only in part) the measures adopted in Newport, and only one of these states is from the Eastern Flank – Poland. Only five member states have allocated 2% of their GDP for defense while ten Allies have met the criteria for spending 20% of their defense budgets for major equipment acquisitions.
Many would argue that the Cold War has ended, however, power centered enemies are still almost the same. Since NATO’s Bucharest Summit in 2008, Russia has pursued an aggressive policy: Georgia (2008), Crimea and Eastern Ukraine (2014), aggressive military maneuvers against NATO naval and air units, as well as its increased military presence in the Western District, near the NATO border, could be regarded as a potential expeditionary threat for Baltic States and Poland. Not to forget the deployment of its anti-access/area denial systems in Kaliningrad, Baltic Sea and Crimea, that could block any future deployment of the NATO Response Force on the Eastern Flank, in case of an Article 5 scenario. On the Southern Flank, migration and terrorism are pressing hard the border of the Alliance through the Mediterranean Sea. Cyber threats have reached unprecedented levels of complexity in recent years, with NATO facing an unseen, complex and non-traceable enemy that poses crucial ability to destroy elements of its organizational or national infrastructure.
What did NATO decide in Warsaw?
The Warsaw Summit Communiqué is the legitimate document of what leaders have agreed on for the next two years. It is probably one of the most comprehensive declarations of all recent NATO Summits since Lisbon, when the most recent Strategic Concept of the Alliance was adopted. The summit Declaration contains 139 paragraphs and most of them are dedicated to threats and measures that have been or will be taken “to ensure that the Alliance remains an unparalleled community of freedom, peace, security, and shared values, including individual liberty, human rights, democracy, and the rule of law”, the document states.
“In order to protect and defend our indivisible security and our common values”, leaders underlined the three core tasks of the Alliance as they are set in the Strategic Concept: collective defense, crisis management, and cooperative security. From start, we can grasp that, although the security environment has suffered tremendous changes – illegal annexation of Crimea, hybrid involvement in Ukraine by Russia and the Islamic State threat, NATO uses the same Lisbon Strategic Concept from November 2010. During the last two years, NATO has faced a Russia who has been shaking the dogs of aggressive threat against Alliance Eastern member states.
NATO leaders agreed that “there is an arc of insecurity and instability along NATO’s periphery and beyond. The Alliance faces a range of security challenges and threats that originate both from the east and from the south; from state and non-state actors; from military forces and from terrorist, cyber, or hybrid attacks”. On the center of these threats, NATO associates Russia in at least 20 paragraphs of the Declaration with: “aggressive actions”, “statements threatening to target Allies”, “violating sovereignty of Ukraine”, “increase its military activities and challenge regional activities”. Looking panoramically at the document, we can see that references to the word ‘Russia’ are placed on less than a quarter of the entire document.
One of the main decisions taken is to deploy four multinational combat battalions to all the Baltic States and Poland in order to reassure the region against Russian encroachment. Battalions will be provided by United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Germany. President Barack Obama outlined that an armored brigade will also be send to Poland next year. A multinational brigade will be formed on Romanian soil, with Bulgarian and Romanian units. The brigade, which is not a fully equipped combat one, will have as primary role – organizing exercises and training. Romania will send an infantry logistic company to Poland which seems to be more like a need to demonstrate the multinational aspect of the battalions in the North. Even if symbolic, North-Eastern countries gained much more military presence on their territories than the countries from the Alliance South-Eastern Flank.
Leaders of the Alliance did acknowledge that the Black Sea security has changed in recent years, with Russia building up its military presence in Crimea and in the region. NATO will evaluate and analyze if it could be possible in the future to support assembling a naval group of states from the region. NATO ministerial defense meeting will discuss the issue in October, but Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has stated in the press conference after the Summit that the Alliance already increased its naval and aerial presence in the Black Sea. Romania needs to do more in the next nine-twelve months to increase its potential in the Alliance, to be more active and vigorous in promoting security on NATO’s immediate proximity border, especially with regard to Republic of Moldova, and in the Black Sea. If we look at the NATO Summit Communiqué, Romania does not seem to have accomplished much in Warsaw.
The Readiness Action Plan Assurance Measures are being seen as “flexible and scalable in response to the evolving security situation, and will be kept under annual review by the Council”. All the ten points referring to the Readiness Action Plan must be understood as a package of deterrence measures to defend Eastern Flank and all member states from growing threats such as hybrid warfare, migration and terrorism in the south. It is also an undeclared message to Russia, taking into account all the flexible units and capabilities formed along the Eastern Flank. Terrorism and its most recent deadliest group – Islamic State (Daesh) and conflict heavens from Middle East and Africa are also of crucial importance for the Alliance, which must understand and prepare to act through appropriate measures to defend its Southern Flank. The summit also brought good news to Montenegro which has been invited to become the 29th member of the Alliance. Georgia and Ukraine remain solid and committed partners and are enhancing cooperation with NATO, even though Russia is a thorn in their side.
Warsaw’s Summit symbolic message
This summit was first of all about unity and solidarity, even though some members from Old Europe have not lost the opportunity to question the Alliance evaluation of Russia, and even whether it would not be better to treat Kremlin as a partner. This is probably the most terrifying danger to the unity of the Alliance – that some member states from Old Europe have a different perspective regarding threat assessment. Except for Germany, no Western continental European country has officially announced during the Summit that it will deploy forces in the East. This silent message did not go unnoticed in the capitals of the Eastern Flank. Russia has superior military presence in the proximity of NATO countries in the East, and the measures taken in Warsaw are a symbolic answer to those member countries requesting more defense. It is the equivalent of using a duck hunting dog to protect against a truculent Rottweiler.
Despite this ambiguity, Warsaw’s NATO Summit has sent a symbolic message of support and unity for its member states from the Eastern Flank as well as to Russia: the official NATO position is to strongly defend all its members. NATO keeps the door open for constructive dialogue with Russia, which is its biggest neighbor. “Russia cannot and should not be isolated”, stressed Jens Stoltenberg in Warsaw, opening the way for the July 13 meeting of the NATO-Russia Council in Brussels. This meeting will probably be the best moment to go over some of the ambiguous pieces of the European pillar of the Alliance and, of course, of the NATO-Russia puzzle, and is considered by some pundits to be as important as the summit itself. As the great Tacitus once said: “Great Empires are not maintained by timidity”. Now, more than ever, is not the time to be shy.