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NATO-Warsaw Summit: What Can We Expect?

Observatory Media is proud to announce it will provide its readers a coverage of the upcoming NATO-Warsaw Summit! Reporting from the Summit is our editor, Christian Picard. Here is our first piece on the Summit, presenting the main issues the allies will most probably talk about in the coming days.

The last NATO Summit was held two years ago, in Wales, UK. Some of the main world events of that time haven’t changed: Ukraine is still in the middle of a latent conflict with Russia; the civil war is still raging in Syria and Iraq, although an end might be in sight; and Europe is still in a difficult economic situation (and that just get worst with the recent Brexit). Just like in 2014, this time again, the alliance will be all about deterrence. On top of that, the main allies are due for elections over the eighteen months (France, Germany, USA, and a change of prime minister in the United Kingdom), which will have an impact on how these countries will negotiate during the summit.

Is this a bleak situation? One can say so, but truth is that the allies are also working together more closely than ever, with over 300 exercises in 2015 and six missions ranging from the Baltic to the Horn of Africa and Afghanistan. Many of the issues mentioned above are long-standing ones, meaning everyone already knows the position of everyone among them, which always helps to speed things up. And, as usual, the final declaration of the summit will have to be adopted by unanimous consent. All NATO members will have to settle many issues to reach this declaration, or else face the prospect of presenting to the world a weaken declaration and a divided alliance…

An Alliance’s Quest for a New Identity:

Following the end of the Cold War, NATO faced an identity crisis: its raison d’être, the USSR, wasn’t here anymore. The alliance tried the peacemaker card in Europe with the Balkan wars. Then, the attacks of 9/11 happened, which triggered the first use of Article 5 of the Washington Treaty. With that, the allies started a decade-long combat mission in Afghanistan (that now transformed itself in a training mission) and, for a moment, it seemed that counterinsurgency and stabilization were the way to go for the Allies. Then, the mixed results of the Libyan intervention (2011), followed by the Russian aggression in Ukraine (2014) jeopardized this new way. Today, there is a split inside the alliance, with the Northern allies wishing the alliance would focus itself more on European defense, while the Southern allies, still struggling with the refugee crisis, have their eyes turned toward the many troubles rocking Middle-East and North Africa.


Since the start of the conflict in Ukraine, a lot of diplomatic channels have been cut off between Russia and NATO. For example, the NATO-Russia Council only held one meeting since 2014, in last April. On the other hand, military and communication channels remained open and, following the April meeting, some people, including NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, stated that another meeting of the Council should be held before the summit or at the summit.

But wanting diplomatic talks to resume doesn’t mean all parties agreed on what the talks should entail. While some countries, like Germany, are still heavily dependent on Russia’s gas, other members are also heavily worried by the Russian military stance in Eastern Europe. Allies, like Poland or the Baltic states, are pushing heavily for more troops on the Eastern flank for the alliance, which the alliance agreed, to a point. The fine line between soft and tough talks toward Russia will be sure to trigger a lot of tensions during the summit. For example, German Foreign Minister, Mr. Steinmeier, “warned NATO against warmongering” with Russia, following last month’s massive exercise (31,000 troops) in Poland.

Reassurance measures

With the events triggered by Russia in Georgia (2008) and Ukraine (2014), there was a push by the Eastern allies to have more military support from the alliance. The result was a new Readiness Action Plan, at the Wales Summit. Since, many exercises have taken place and new forces have been deployed in Europe, or are about to be deployed, including a new rotating force, the new NATO’s enhanced forward presence, of about 4000 troops, in the Baltic. For sure, new reassurance measures will be approved during the summit, because the USA are likely to support them and some are already wondering if the Brexit won’t be the occasion for the United Kingdom to invest more in the alliance. The size of the commitment remains to be seen.

Burden sharing

Recent declarations of US presidential candidate Donald Trump have brought back in the public opinion the issue of burden sharing: is the USA too involved in Europe, while Europeans allies are acting as free riders when it comes to their security? To be sure, burden sharing is a long-standing issue within the alliance, with occasional bouts in the public opinion (funnily, a RAND report of 1989 was echoing some of Trump’s arguments…).

The key part of the issue here is how much money countries put in their military. For the record, even if GDP is increasing in both Europe and North America, defense expenditures, by % of GDP, is decreasing everywhere, and this decline is faster in the USA. At the Wales Summit, the goal of 2% of GDP in defense expenditures by the allies was restated. This being a goal, it is not binding, but still has a strong influence. Alongside the 2%, a new goal was created, this one binding: 20% of the military budget of the allies must be in military improvement (notably, major equipment buying or upgrade). These two numbers reflect the division in the alliance, some members (the USA being first) wanting to make sure all allies are sufficiently involved, while other allies, notably Canada and the Netherlands, are more on a “more bang for the buck” stance. Who is right? Difficult to say. For sure, the USA is pouring a lot of money in their military and without them, the security landscape in Europe would be far different. On the other hand, Canada, with only a 1% of GDP military budget, was the fifth biggest contributor in Afghanistan, showing some value in its position of bang for the buck.

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Source: Giri Rajendran / IISS Military Balance 2016


Three countries are officially part of the Membership Action Plan (MAP): Macedonia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Two other countries that want to come in are Ukraine and Georgia.

While the three countries in the MAP are seen as a key part to ensuring a stronger stabilization in the Balkans, it is unlikely Ukraine and Georgia will soon be invited, for fear of too much destabilization within the NATO-Russia relation.

Further readings

NATO-Warsaw Summit official website

NATO Secretary General 2015 annual report

Wales Summit Declaration

NATO-Russia relations

NATO 2010 Strategic Concept

North Atlantic Treaty (Washington Treaty)

Christian Picard
Christian Picard is Editor of Observatory Media‘s French-language publications and Executive Advisor at Ethics Without Borders. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political science and History from Université Laval (Québec City.) As a native Francophone – bilingual in English and French – he is a self-declared globetrotter, having visitied France, the United States, Peru, China and both Koreas (no kidding!). / Christian Picard est éditeur à la rédaction francophone d'Observatory Media. Il possède un baccalauréat en Science politique et Histoire de l'Université Laval (Québec). Bilingue, français et anglais, il est un globe-trotter assumé, ayant déjà visité les États-Unis, la France, la Chine, le Pérou et les deux Corées (sans farce!)

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