With the ink on the Warsaw Summit communiqué now dry, it is time to look back on the summit. In our pre-summit analysis, we identified five topics of interest: the quest for a new identity, Russia, reassurance measures, burden sharing, and enlargement. As predicted, the Allies addressed all of these topics.
The identity crisis of the alliance is still unresolved, but at least divisions among the Allies are less pronounced than what was thought to have existed. With the defence expenditures slowly starting to rise in the Alliance, and a few members who feel a need to reaffirm their commitment to the Alliance; NATO now has two more major operations going on: the Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP) and the Sea Guardian mission.
The EFP is the Alliance’s answer, for now, to the members’ fears in Eastern Europe and the Baltics. One of the key aspects of the EFP is that the four allies leading it are from both sides of the Atlantic: USA, UK, Canada and Germany. It helps to send a stronger message of unity to the world, and Russia in particular. For the UK, this summit was also a great opportunity to show to its Allies that despite the uncertainties of Brexit, the British are still there, and in great numbers. As for Canada, it took this chance to show its partners that it is willing to do its part of burden sharing within the Alliance without necessarily committing itself to the goal of spending two per cent of its GDP in its defence budget.
Moving to the Middle East, the Allies agreed that stabilizing Iraq and Syria is fundamental for Europe’s security. The Allies agreed to provide training and surveillance assets to help support the anti-ISIS coalition, the details of which are still unknown. NATO also wanted to address the issue of migrants with the upcoming launch of the Sea Guardian mission. It will replace the Active Endeavour mission in the Mediterranean Sea by bettering its capability to track and stop trafficking activities, and monitor migrant movements.
But in all these assets pledges, and others such as missile defence, members made sure to consistently mention it is a “defensive alliance.” This specific wording is directly targeted to Russia, which is accusing NATO of reigniting the Cold War. Indeed, the relations between NATO and Russia are still very cold despite a new meeting of the NATO-Russia Council on July 13. This recent meeting was dubbed by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, as “not a meeting of the minds […] but an important opportunity to clarify our positions”. However, there is still a slight light of hope that things may get better between NATO and Russia. As Mr. Marcin Terlikowski, head of the European Security and Defence Economics Project at the Polish Institute of International Affairs told us before the Summit, the “ball is on the Russian side” and that for a real conversation to take place, there needs to be a discussion on transparency measures. In this last meeting, Russia showed some signs it wanted to increase air safety in the Baltic Sea, an area where Russia’s Air Force has been buzzing US warships recently.
Finally, another recurring theme within Alliance discussions is Afghanistan. During the summit, it was decided that the present mission will be extended to at least 2020, with the current levels of troops and funding. With a Taliban resurgence in the country, we can wonder whether new troops will be added or not, or if the training mission, Resolute Support, will see a return to combat operations. While many of the countries involved in the mission do not want to see a full scale mission like the former ISAF to return, the wording of the summit communiqué is purposely ambiguous: “NATO [has] committed to sustain the Resolute Support mission […] through a flexible, regional model”. (Article 86)
The keyword of the Warsaw Summit is unity. The Allies wanted to stress a unified image of the Alliance. They have done so by increasing Alliance’s assets in order to meet, at least to a minimum, the main concerns of each member. In closing, while NATO is a very strong and capable alliance, it is still missing a definitive beacon to guide it into the future.