Defense, deterrence, dialogue. This motto sums up the NATO Summit in Warsaw rather well. On July 8 and 9, NATO members gathered in Poland to confirm and flesh out the plans unveiled during the 2014 Wales Summit in terms of reassurance to the Allies and increase in the Alliance’s defenses on its Eastern flank.
Multinational troop deployment in the Baltic region and Poland
The most significant increment of the Warsaw Summit was the decision to greenlight the creation of four multinational battalions in the 3 Baltic States and Poland. Starting January 2017, up to 4,000 troops will be deployed on a rotational basis in the 4 countries. This forward presence will be staffed by about 1,000 United States soldiers in Poland, 450 Canadians in Latvia, 600 Germans in Lithuania, and 500 British troops in Estonia (supplemented by other Allied troops). The new Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), U.S. Army General Curtis Scaparrotti, will supervise the creation of the force. It is supposed to act as a deterrent against Russia’s actions on NATO’s Eastern flank and recall that the Kremlin can no longer do as it pleases. The exact location of the forward bases remains unknown but is already subject to debate in Poland. Polish authorities want the force to be posted in the Suwalki gap, a strategic stretch of land located between Kaliningrad and Belarus.
Considered a “historic deal” by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, NATO and the European Union (Commission and European Council) signed a cooperation agreement on security issues, including on terrorism, cyber-defense, and “hybrid threats” and disinformation campaigns stemming from the South and the East (read Russia). The agreement aims at boosting cooperation, information sharing, analysis, prevention, and early detection of both physical and cyber threats. The first implementation plan should be presented at the NATO Council in December 2016.
Ukraine’s hopes are dashed back in the dark
Warsaw was not a good summit for Kyiv, as Ukraine was recalled that it would not become a NATO member anytime soon but would rather work out a “distinctive partnership” with the Alliance. Also, President Petro Poroshenko made it absolutely clear that membership was “not currently on the agenda”. Allies approved and endorsed the Comprehensive Assistance Package (CAP) aimed at increasing cooperation between NATO and Ukraine. The CAP mostly entitles Kyiv to more interoperability and capacity building measures in the defense sector. For this, 40 practice and 10 advisory areas were identified, including financial assistance in demining in Donbas, defense reform and education, counter-IED capabilities, cyber defense, etc. Nothing surprisingly exotic, if only the right to reform Ukraine’s army to NATO standards can be considered an actual endgame. Many in Kyiv voiced their discontent over the lack of advances for Ukraine at Warsaw.
Small potatoes for Georgia
During the meeting of the NATO-Georgia Commission, Allies noted the “significant progress” in the implementation of the Substantial NATO-Georgia Package (SNGP), the watershed tool created in 2014 to slow down Tbilisi from getting a Membership Action Plan (MAP). The Bucharest promise of 2008 that Georgia would one day become a NATO member still stands, but with no end in sight. Leaving Georgia in limbo between full implementation of the SNGP and preparation for the MAP could last indefinitely. In this, at Warsaw, Tbilisi was simply given a pat on the back.
Black Sea naval presence in contention
The Warsaw Summit failed to see the creation of a Back Sea naval component aimed at reinforcing NATO’s Southeastern flank with Russia. An option is still on the table, however, and the Alliance’s air and maritime presence in the Black Sea should be assessed next October at the NATO Defense Minister meeting. Romania has been actively pushing for an increased NATO presence in the region but Bulgaria and Turkey are lobbying against it. While NATO is heavily focusing on its Eastern flank with Russia, the Black Sea region is not benefiting from as much attention – a growing issue that could turn out to be detrimental for the Alliance.
The Russian factor
All eyes, ears, and hearts at Warsaw were directed at a non-NATO member: Russia. Interestingly, the Warsaw Summit moved the Alliance from factual reassurance to actual deterrence against the enemy of the moment. As Jens Stoltenberg puts it, NATO’s relationship with Russia is based on “strong defense, strong deterrence combined with dialogue”. This paramount shift in NATO’s posture towards Russia was dubbed a “turning point in the history of the Alliance” by Polish Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz. In this, it took the Alliance a long two years to move from the initial pure bemusement caused by Russia’s actions in Ukraine to shaping an actual deterrence policy against Moscow. But Russia does not represent an “imminent threat against any NATO ally” according to Stoltenberg. It’s just that the Kremlin poses a problem to Euro-Atlantic security and is part of the “arc of insecurity and instability along NATO’s periphery and beyond” described in the Warsaw Summit communiqué.
Passed the usual saber-rattling rhetoric from Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov and other State officials, Moscow’s response to the NATO Summit was somewhat mild. Rather, the Kremlin is seeking to sow discord from within, playing out the “weak”, Russian-leaning NATO member States and seeking to disrupt them from the inside. Also, Moscow is actively building bridges unilaterally with NATO members supporting the concept of a dialogue with Russia over Ukraine – including the United States, France, and Germany.
While NATO is confidently showing some muscle, Russia will be looking at the long run and covertly destabilize the Alliance from the ground up and from within. It would not be altogether surprising if certain Warsaw decisions were pushed back or abandoned in the coming months, just for the sake of accommodating an increased dialogue with Russia.
A modicum of progress was noted at the NATO-Russia Council, which gathered on July 13 in Brussels: both parties agreed to the proposal of Finnish President Sauli Niinistö to work out a risk reduction plan in the Baltic airspace with the help of transponders. The plan aims at avoiding risk of military aircraft collisions and accidental encounters that could lead to escalation. A sound proposal.