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Some Expectations of the Warsaw Summit 2016

On July 8-9 2016, the member heads of states and governments of NATO meet in Warsaw to address strategic challenges currently facing the Alliance, and to develop a comprehensive responsive agenda to existing threats to the Alliance’s territorial and operational integrity. The requirement to react to evolving challenges is nothing new for NATO, and this Summit is expected to address security environments in regions across the globe, including Europe, the Middle East, and Russia. In doing so, the Alliance will have to act in cohesion and cooperation, and move towards behaving as a single unit. It will also have to further develop its strategic relationships with regional partners, particularly the EU.

The Summit has three main objectives, each of which can be further broken down into several comprehensive points. In a press conference with reporters on 6 June 2016, NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, outlined these objectives:

Enhancing NATO’s collective defense and deterrence

  1. Projecting stability beyond the Alliance
  2. Expanding cooperation with the EU (and further partnership policies)

This article will expand on each of the objectives, and outline key points of discussion that are likely to be addressed during the Warsaw Summit.

Collective defense & deterrence:

Eastern Flank

The relationship between Russia and NATO has diminished significantly over the past few years. After the annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula by Russia — an act that many countries across the globe considered aggressive and illegal — NATO chose to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation on 1 April 2014; since then, it has actively placed the blame for the current state of affairs entirely on the shoulders of Russia. However, it claims that avenues for dialogue are kept open for the purpose of potential cooperation in the future. Indeed, Russia and NATO have met three times since the suspension took place; despite this, it cannot objectively be said that the most recent meeting made much progress towards renewing practical cooperation, despite Stoltenberg’s insistence otherwise.

The crisis in Ukraine has encouraged NATO to move towards an increasingly protectivist policy in Eastern member states. The beefing up of defense has served to reassure Eastern European partners against the threat of Russia from the East. NATO has claimed that it is “responding to substantial military build-up in Russia”, and is not engaging in offensive military action. In fact, Stoltenberg has stated that “everything NATO does and also of course in the Baltic Region is proportionate, it’s defensive, and it’s fully in line with our international commitments.” These statements of assurance, however, seem in contradiction to the recent May unveiling of a $800 million missile receptor site in May by US and NATO officials. This move was a renewal of the US’s pledge to defend NATO’s territorial integrity and security from so-called “rogue states”, wherein NATO will control the site starting July, remotely commanded from a US air base in Germany; however, Russian officials have claimed that this was a move for the military and political containment of Russia.

Furthermore, NATO has already drawn up plans to deploy four combat battalions in Poland, and in the three Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and has plans for the continuation of substantial military exercises in Poland. This planned action has seen substantial support in Poland, which borders Ukraine; in early June, Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszezykowski called for a “substantial” military build-up of NATO forces in Poland and the Baltics to achieve an authentic security guarantee.

It is clear that NATO’s first priority is to provide a sense of security and support for its Eastern flank member states. However, the intensity of the beefing up of NATO presence and military projects in the East calls into question the validity of Stoltenberg’s assurance that this is only deterrence. Certainly, from some perspectives, NATO plans for security in the East may be interpreted as aggressive expansion and the encirclement of Russia close to the strategically important Black Sea, which Russia uses to house a naval fleet.

Southern Flank

Russia is not NATO’s only security concern — the current levels of terrorism and massive refugee flow are a threat to the border security of Southern member states. At present time, the mandate of NATO doesn’t include dealing with terrorist groups with regards to intelligence — this is considered a domestic security issue. Furthermore, the South has not historically been at the core of Allies’ focus. However, if the Southern states — more specifically Italy, Greece, and Turkey — pressure for support from NATO, the mandate may be changed. Coming up to the Warsaw Summit, NATO is still lacking in strong leadership in the South; it is very likely that this will be a point of discussion and contention during the Summit.

Security beyond the Alliance:

Security in the Middle East and North Africa

NATO Allies and partners continue to support Afghanistan in the fight against corruption, in the restoration and protection of human rights, and in the advancement of the peace process. This relationship is one that is firm and evolving. However, NATO must adapt to deal with armed Islamist groups while staying engaged in Afghanistan, and increasing capacity building within Afghanistan. This pertains specifically to Resolute Support, which is a NATO-led, non-combat mission in Afghanistan. Currently, Resolute Support has about 13,000 NATO personnel and personnel from partner nations. It is expected that a renewal of commitment past 2016 towards Resolute Support shall be made during the Warsaw Summit. It is possible that Allies will engage in consideration of how to ensure success of Resolute Support given the presence of groups in Afghanistan affiliated with IS. Perhaps, this will mean more and direct assistance to ANSF and other Afghan security organs. As well, this may mean a resumption of a combat role.

A review of financial support for Afghan security forces is also expected to take place. NATO needs to finalize commitments locked in until 2020. Currently, NATO and partner nations have confirmed funding pledges until the end of 2017. However, Allies have agreed that working with the wider international community is vital to produce the necessary pledges through 2020. The Warsaw Summit is expected to produce concrete sources of financial pledging through 2020.

From a more long-term lens of focus, a discussion of the role of NATO in conflict zones in the Middle East and North Africa is likely to take place. This may take shape in the form of seeking closer cooperation with countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council, or of providing aid to the US-led coalition to counter ISIS by supplying AWACS surveillance aircrafts. NATO is also likely to seek an increased presence in the Mediterranean, in collusion with the development of a coherent Southern strategy, with the further broadening of Operation Active Endeavour, and increased support for maritime counterterrorism, air policing, and the African Union.

Nuclear Weapons Policy

Although it will most certainly be a focus of the Warsaw Summit, NATO nuclear policy is unlikely to undergo many significant changes in the near future. As it stands, NATO explains such changes as unnecessary, given that “NATO or Western nuclear weapons states do not intend to engage in a nuclear arms race with Russia or any other potential adversary.” NATO believes that its current nuclear capabilities are not excessive, and that an excessive reliance on nuclear weapons could be called into question; however, NATO gives no specific definition clarifying the difference between “just enough” nuclear power and “excessive” nuclear power. NATO states that it uses nuclear capabilities as a central tactic to its deterrence and defence position. Therefore, the presence of nuclear weapons plays a key role in “denying potential adversaries any escalation dominance”.

There are some points over which discussion may be had, however. Firstly, Allies may address diversification of deterrence and defense capabilities; relying primarily on nuclear capabilities may make potential adversaries question NATO’s nuclear resolve, thereby pushing Allied countries into a nuclear weapons arms race. Thus, it is vital that NATO establish a robust set of conventional capabilities, such that NATO’s sources are diversified. Secondly, it is important that NATO set out a clear message, that nuclear capabilities exist for a specific purpose — one of deterrence and defence; however, it is also important that NATO emphasizes that nuclear weapons are a last resort — in this way, NATO will honour its international obligations and commitments, including those made on nuclear weapons. Thirdly, NATO must foster an internal debate about the place of nuclear capabilities in the Alliance. This is important because many countries within the Alliance have limited experience with nuclear capabilities. A balance is needed to ensure for future crisis management. Indeed, NATO is likely to reevaluate the role of nuclear scenarios in its crisis-management exercises. This will include a review of the 2010 missile defense development.

Partnership policies


On 19 May 2016, Monenegro signed the Accession Protocol, which has, as of the 30 June 2016, been ratified by all NATO members. The stage is now set for Montenegro’s accession into NATO. This will send a political strong message to the world — particularly to Russia — that NATO accepts all countries which meet its demands for membership; it will not be deterred by Russia’s attempts to influence against free choice to form alliances in Eastern countries. That being said, it is unlikely that Montenegro shall be able to produce significant contributions towards the Alliance; therefore, a question of aggressive NATO expansion into the East vs. an “open door policy” towards new members voluntarily joining still remains. The prospects of Ukraine and Georgia becoming part of NATO are much further off, but it is unlikely that there will be a pause in the enlargement process after the accession of Montenegro. Therefore, NATO will continually look forward to new members joining after Montenegro becomes the 29th member.


There is a need for a further enhancement of EU-NATO cooperation. The relationship between the EU and NATO is of a particularly unique nature, given that the EU and NATO have 22 member countries in common. Furthermore, close cooperation between the EU and NATO is an important aspect to the development of many international projects of crisis management and operations, such as in the case of Operation Sophia. Nevertheless, there is always room for growth, especially when it comes to addressing specific security challenges.

One of the areas which EU and NATO cooperation will be further pursued and reaffirmed in Warsaw is the transatlantic partnership. Transatlantic security cooperation has steadily pushed affected countries closer together, emphasizing collective interests and common values, but suffers from a lack of a constructive dialogue between the EU and North American partners. Indeed, this is partly due to the fact that various players within the EU and within the US have diverging interests and fundamentals. However, these gaps need to be addressed and dealt with, as the US cannot engage in European security consistently with a lack of burden-sharing from other nations.

At the Wales summit, NATO members pledged to move towards having every country allocate 2% of its GDP on defense. At present, only five states meet this requirement. However, there is criticism that the 2% figure does not accurately reflect a member state’s contribution to the defense capabilities of NATO. Indeed, Greece has the second-greatest defense expenditure in the Alliance after the US in terms of GDP (it meets the 2% requirement, having spent 2.46% of its GDP on defense in 2015). If Germany spent 2% of its GDP on defense, it would have an annual defense expenditure of over 50 billion euro (a budget that politically it cannot adopt). In total defense spending, the US augments NATO’s defense budget to an enormous degree, and pours support into European security where EU members are unable. Nevertheless, with the migration crisis, it often seems that EU and NATO security interests are one and the same.

In conclusion

The overarching theme that the Warsaw Summit is expected to produce is deterrence, both against Russia and against threats coming from the Middle East. In order to respond to evolving threats from these regions, it is vital that the Alliance acts in cohesion and in cooperation with its partners across the world, especially in Europe. Furthermore, NATO will need to address a lack of internal response to Southern flank instability. There is yet much work to be done, and it is unlikely that all questions will have answers at the conclusion of the Summit.

Maria Gladkikh

Further readings:


Adeline Silva Pereira

Après avoir effectué la deuxième année du master Sécurité Globale analyste politique trilingue à l'Université de Bordeaux, j'effectue un stage au sein d'EU Logos afin de pouvoir mettre en pratique mes compétences d'analyste concernant l'actualité européenne sur la défense, la sécurité et plus largement la coopération judiciaire et policière.

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