A Date with Destiny: NATO’s Warsaw Summit

by Paul Pryce. With degrees in political science from both sides of the pond, Paul Pryce has previously worked as Senior Research Fellow for the Atlantic Council of Canada’s Canadian Armed Forces program, as a Research Fellow for the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and as an Associate Fellow at the Latvian Institute of International Affairs. He has also served as an infantryman in the Canadian Forces.

The 2014 NATO Summit in Wales.

The 2014 NATO Summit in Wales.

On July 8-9, Warsaw will host heads of state or government from NATO’s 28 member countries as the most recent NATO Summit is convened. Held biennially, the previous gathering – the Wales Summit – focused heavily on the threat to European security posed by the Russian Federation’s recent aggression. In fact, the Wales Summit Declaration refers in its opening lines to “Russia’s aggressive actions against Ukraine” and one of the document’s clear deliverables is the formation of a Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF). At the time, the Russian occupation of Crimea was fresh in the minds of the Wales Summit participants, given that the meetings were held less than six months after the formal annexation of Crimea. But what will be the dominant themes of the Warsaw Summit? With the United States of America entering election season and the future of the United Kingdom’s European Union membership in question, can much be accomplished in Warsaw?

There is certainly a sense of urgency surrounding this particular Summit. Speaking at the Wrocław Global Forum in June 2016, NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow said that “NATO has not faced so many challenges in decades” and that “it seems the summit in Warsaw could be one of the most fateful in the history of the Alliance”. Ahead of the gathering in Warsaw, Poland played host to Anakonda 2016, the largest military exercise in Eastern Europe since the Cold War. On June 6-17, 31,000 soldiers from 24 countries gathered to simulate a NATO response to an attempted invasion of Poland, with the US as the largest contributor with 14,000 troops, followed by 12,000 from Poland, and 1,000 from the UK. Although Anakonda has been a biannual exercise since its inception in 2006, the immense scale of the 2016 edition may be intended to conceal some of the divisions forming within the Alliance ahead of the Warsaw Summit. These divisions are principally concerned with burden-sharing and whether NATO’s strategic focus should be on its eastern flank (namely toward Russia) or on its south (where instability in the Middle East and North Africa has given rise to new security threats).

In an effort to ensure the burden of securing European peace and security is shared equally, the NATO member states have committed to spending 2% of their annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on defence. However, most member states routinely fall short of this target; for 2015, only Estonia, Greece, Poland, the UK, and the US spent 2% or more of annual GDP on defence. Some governments, such as Hungary (0.85%), Spain (0.89%), and Belgium (0.90%), might come under pressure to ramp up their spending closer to the 2% commitment. The Wales Summit Declaration adds another component to Alliance burden-sharing, however: member states agreed to ensure that 50% of their overall land force strength should be deployable and 10% of each member’s overall land force strength should be either engaged in or earmarked for sustained operations. The member states did not agree to make their deployability data public, so it is difficult to discern which countries might come under pressure for lagging in this area. But it is likely to deepen the debate on burden-sharing in Warsaw.

There were already rumblings about this issue ahead of the Wales Summit. In June 2014, US Secretary of State John Kerry said during a visit to NATO Headquarters in Brussels that “[…] every ally spending less than 2% of their GDP needs to dig deeper and make a concrete commitment to do more”. On a state visit to Poland, US President Barack Obama said in a joint press conference with then Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski that “[…] we’re going to need to make sure that everybody who is a member of NATO has full membership. They expect full membership when it comes to their defense; then that means that they’ve also got to make a contribution that is commensurate with full membership.”

Germany is expected to lead the push-back on this front. Although German defence spending is only 1.18% of GDP, the country is investing considerably in the modernization of its military equipment. As some German analysts have also recently argued, the debate on burden-sharing should also distinguish between “input criteria”, such as the commitment on defence expenditures, and “output criteria” like the aforementioned deployability commitment. This same analysis calls for greater focus on “output criteria”, since the focus on spending does not account for efficiency or the extent to which an individual member state can contribute toward the collective security of the Alliance.

Intelligence-sharing will also likely be a major agenda item. The establishment of a new position – Assistant Secretary General for Intelligence – has been proposed and is likely to be approved at the Summit. But it is difficult to discern to what extent NATO member states will actually empower the Alliance in this area. An agreement resembling the “Five Eyes” – under which data from domestic surveillance of perceived security threats is shared between Canada, the US, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand – is unlikely, especially as such an intelligence-sharing body would duplicate the work of the European Police Office, also known as Europol. In January 2016, the EU member states launched the European Counter Terrorism Centre under the auspices of Europol, which further demonstrates the desire for a Europe-driven response to the terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels rather than an Alliance-driven response.

Perhaps the most significant flashpoint of the Warsaw Summit will be a proposal from Poland’s new President, Andrzej Duda, which he has called “Newport Plus”. Arguing that the items included in the Wales Summit Declaration do not go far enough toward securing Central and Eastern Europe against future Russian aggression, President Duda has said that, “we need a greater presence of NATO in this part of Europe” through the establishment of military bases in the region. German and US officials are likely to resist this proposal, however, and at least one American official has been quoted as saying, “NATO is not talking about establishing bases […] we support an enhanced presence, but we can do it without bases […]” As such, the likely outcome is an increase in NATO – and particularly US – military activities in Poland and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania through exercises and other limited-term deployments.

Defense spending as a percentage of GDP of some NATO member states in 2015: only 5 member states were above the 2% target.

Defense spending as a percentage of GDP of some NATO member states in 2015: only 5 member states were above the 2% target.Verteidigungsausgaben im Jahre 2015 in Prozent des BIP einiger NATO-Mitgliedsstaaten. Nur 5 Mitgliedsstaaten befinden sich über dem 2% Soll.

The Warsaw Summit will also involve other topics of concern, though these are bound to be less volatile than the debates over military bases in Central and Eastern Europe, burden-sharing, and intelligence-sharing. Poland is eager to keep discussions focused on the security of NATO’s eastern flank and the threat of continued Russian aggression, but other member states like Italy would doubtless like to see as much attention paid to NATO’s southern flank. Continued instability in Libya has led thousands to seek refuge in Italy, creating a humanitarian crisis on the Italian island of Lampedusa and elsewhere in southern Europe. In April 2015, a Sicilian fishing boat and its seven crew members was apparently seized by pirates approximately 60 kilometres off the Libyan coast, indicating the potential for Libya-based pirates or terrorists to threaten Mediterranean fishing and shipping. Whether NATO could do anything further to address this security challenge is unclear, though; Operation Active Endeavour has dedicated NATO ships to patrolling the Mediterranean Sea since October 2001. The funding of joint efforts like the NATO Airborne Early Warning & Control Force (NAEWCF), which is a fleet of 17 modified Boeing E-3A Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft, will also come up. Canada’s withdrawal from the program and the associated Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) program in 2014 has left the remaining participating countries struggling to find the necessary funds and personnel. Unless Canada’s newly elected Liberal government reverses course on this decision, NATO may need to downsize its AWACS fleet, which will negatively impact NATO’s surveillance of the Turkish border with Syria and Iraq.

With such a packed agenda, it is doubtful much attention will be paid to the NATO aspirations of candidate countries like Montenegro (see also Paul Pryce, “Should Montenegro join NATO?“, offiziere.ch, 14.12.2015). In May 2016, accession talks with Montenegro successfully concluded and now the ratification of an accession agreement by NATO’s 28 member states and the Montenegrin Parliament must be completed, which is expected to be achieved by spring 2017. As of this writing, only Iceland and Slovenia have ratified Montenegro’s accession, suggesting no significant announcement will be ready by the time the Warsaw Summit is held.

Clearly, as indicated in Wrocław by NATO’s Deputy Secretary General, there is much on the line for the Alliance at the upcoming Warsaw Summit. If NATO is to have an enduring role in European security, careful negotiations will be necessary to prevent certain divisions – whether to insist on a strict defence spending target or adopt a more nuanced approach, whether the priority should be on the east or the south, and whether Europol should continue to be Europe’s go-to cross-border counter-terrorism body – do not deepen into fissures. Turkey’s growing disillusionment with the Alliance, given what it sees as a lack of support in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), suggests that the fissures have already formed and that holding NATO together for another 60 years might be too great a challenge for the successors to those convening in Warsaw.

About Paul Pryce

Paul Pryce is Director of Social Media at the Centre for International Maritime Security and also serves as a Research Analyst with the NATO Council of Canada’s Maritime Nation Program. Holding degrees from the University of Calgary and Tallinn University, he has previously worked in conflict resolution as a diplomatic aide with the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and as an infantryman in the Canadian Forces.

This entry was posted in English, International, Paul Pryce, Security Policy.

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