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What About NATO’s Big Players?

One of the Alliance’s greatest strengths is the ability to come to a consensus. Each clause of the Warsaw Summit’s final declaration must be adopted by all members. If any member votes no, the specific clause cannot be adopted; this system effectively gives each member a veto right. This translates to an end result which every member can stand behind, and it sends a powerful message of unity to the rest of the world.

However, this a consensus is also, in a way, a weakness, because each clause will be toned down until everyone reaches a common agreement. In such a scenario, the negotiation game is incredibly intense and each country heavily focuses on discovering its fellow members’ special interests. This piece covers the probable hot topics for the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Germany.

For the United States, It’s All About Having Everyone On Board

Bilateral meeting between NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and US President Barack Obama at the White House
Bilateral meeting between NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and US President Barack Obama at the White House

This being Barack Obama’s last NATO Summit, he will try to ensure that America is seen as a positive leader within NATO, a leader that can reinforce the allies’ commitment to NATO. To do so, the US will have to help restore  dialogue with Russia in a manner that displays strength, especially for the allies feeling threatened by Russia. Being able to convince everyone is particularly important to counter the recent comments (by Donald Trump, among others) against supposed “free riders” who are benefiting from American protection while doing nothing in return. If Obama is successful, it will help cement one of his American foreign policy legacies of trying to avoid “slippery slope“, like the 2003 American intervention in Iraq.

Two areas where America would like to have more involvement from its allies are with the reassurance measures in the Baltic and Eastern Europe and with the Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan. For reassurances measures, the new rotating force currently deployed will be made official at the Summit, but having the US is probably looking for more troops committed to future exercises.

When it comes to the mission in Afghanistan, the situation is degrading quickly with the Afghan security forces visibly unable to contain a Taliban resurgence. It was recently announced by NATO that the Resolute Support mission will be extended. At the same time, U.S. Defence Secretary, Ash Carter, confirmed that the mandate of American troops participating in Resolute Support will be strengthened. Increasing the number of presently stationed troops from 12,000 would greatly help the Afghan government.

United Kingdom: The Summit of All Uncertainties

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg meets with the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, The Right Honourable David Cameron
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg meets with the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, The Right Honourable David Cameron

For the United Kingdom, this summit will be a crash test of their influence in Europe in light of the recent Brexit vote. Even though Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty (the article by which a European Union member can leave the EU) has not yet been invoked by the UK. The reactions of certain EU members, namely Germany, is that the UK’s star in Europe is quickly fading. Additionally, with Prime Minister David Cameron’s coming resignation in the fall, there is considerable uncertainty surrounding the country. While PM Cameron will be present in Warsaw, he will be in a precarious position following these recent developments.

The summit could be the occasion to reaffirm British commitment to Europe, at least to its NATO allies. As a likely result of the Brexit, the UK’s financial and military involvement to the EU would be  stopped; however the UK could divert those resources to NATO operations. On the other hand, if the British can’t convince their allies of their commitment to Europe, they will see their influence shrink further. It will diminish the UK’s capacity to act as a mediator between  the US and the European allies, shrinking its influence further.

In France, It’s the South and the Budget that Matters

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and President Hollande

While many believed that France defence budget would be reduced, last fall President Hollande announced a boost in the military budget. The boost will ultimately bring the budget at an equivalent of 1.8 per cent of the country’s 2016-2019 GDP. This will put France closer to NATO’s goal of 2% of each country’s GDP to be put towards defence spending. With that in mind, it is likely France will push for the other allies to increase their own military budget. Besides having everyone spending at least a certain amount in defence, and additional incentive for France is that it would help its military industry. If we recall the Wales Summit Declaration (Article 14), at least 20% of the military budget must be dedicated to major improvement. For France, any military contract would be bienvenu, considering its struggling economy.

While Russia’s aggressive stance is certainly worrying France, the troubles in Middle-East and North Africa are of greater concern. The country as been touched by the massive influx of refugees, and it is worried about being able to handle that growing number seeking asylum from countries in those regions. In fact, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees released a report in July 2015 qualifying the situation as a crisis. A year later, the situation is at best the same if not worse. For a Mediterranean country like France, stabilising the region is very urgent.

Germany and the Shadows of Russia

Joint press conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and German Chancellor Angela Merkel
Joint press conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and German Chancellor Angela Merkel

Russia is one of the main issues for many Northern allies, the goal for Germany will be to contain the warmongering urges of its tense allies. The German Foreign Minister, Mr. Steinmeier, warned against NATO members “warmongering” against Russia. There are three main reasons why Germany has taken this stance: Germany is not at the gates of Russia, Germany is still heavily dependent on Russian natural gas, and Germany is still trying to maintain a special relationship with Russia in an effort to be more proactive in the world stage.

Besides Russia, refugees and burden-sharing are also very likely to be the dominant preoccupations of the German delegation. Germany received over 600,000 refugees from the Syrian conflict alone. The question of how NATO can help mitigate this crisis would be important for Germany. As for burden-sharing, Germany is in the same basket as many big powers, it is starting to grow its defence budget, and it wants to make sure all the NATO allies are doing the same.

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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