The NATO Summit in Warsaw and the Questions it Answered and Produced

The NATO Warsaw Summit wrapped up on July 9, 2016, and was arguably the most important NATO summit held since the end of the Cold War. While many heads of state considered it to be a success, just how successful it was in some respects can be left up to interpretation. Indeed, for each question it answered, the Summit produced many, many more. As expected, it was during the Summit that NATO took many decisive and somewhat controversial positions on several key issues. However, everything that was communicated during the Summit was essentially — according to NATO itself — to ensure that the Alliance remained an unparalleled community of common values, security, peace, democracy, and freedom. It acted and spoke as a single body, while putting forth a united front. The Summit was coloured by two main themes: defense and deterrence, and projecting security beyond the alliance.

With regards to the strengthening of the EU-NATO relationship, the Summit gave the allegiance new impetus and substance. It renewed the importance of the partnership with a high degree of “full mutual openness” and respect for the autonomous decision-making processes of both parties. Furthermore, the Summit confirmed a lack of prejudice to specific profiles of security and defense policy of any member of either party, and reiterated that, while individually, both parties remain important contributors to the security of the Euro-Atlantic region, the partnership between the EU and NATO is a special one that has been boosting and maintaining international security for 15 years.

The Summit also recognized the security challenges faced by both parties — in particular, challenges oncoming from the East and the South. The Summit further recognized a duty to comply with citizens’ demands for enhancement of national security in response to these threats. The Summit did not, however, clarify just how NATO and its allies could determine what the appropriate level of enhancement to national security the general public demanded. This lack of clarification raises several interesting questions, namely ones that ask: are NATO and partners simply using so-called fuzzy demands by civilian populations to engage in a military build-up passed off as a method of deterrence?

Regardless of this, the Summit did specify several areas of the NATO-EU relationship that needed honing: firstly, the Summit determined that new and innovative avenues of cooperation needed to be discovered and maintained; secondly, the Summit determined that new channels for promoting and maintaining high levels of ambition needed to be developed; thirdly, a broad array of networks to respond to oncoming challenges needed to be mobilized; and lastly, a stronger and more efficient use of resources needed to be made. What this all underscores is that a stronger NATO and a stronger EU are mutually reinforcing.

With regards to projecting stability beyond the alliance, the Summit determined that there is an urgent need to boost NATO’s ability to counter hybrid threats; this would involve necessary collaboration with partners on several fronts. Namely, this would concern: working together on analysis, prevention, and early detection; information sharing in an efficient and secure manner; and cooperating on strategic communication and response. Furthermore, a broadening and adoption of operational cooperation at sea and on migration through an increased sharing of maritime situational awareness would be required. Overall, the development of complementary interoperable defense capabilities of EU and NATO members is necessary in order to facilitate multilateral projects and coordinate exercises between the two entities.

On a broader scale, Allied ministers welcome Georgia’s participation in discussion on Black Sea security, and on recent developments in the region affecting Euro-Atlantic security (including the situations in the Abhkazia and Tshkinvali regions). Plans for further NATO-Georgia exercises were made for November, and initiatives were discussed to help strengthen Georgia’s defense capabilities, interoperability, and resilience capabilities, including increasing support for the development of Georgia’s air defense and air surveillance. This specific joint action was held as part of Georgia’s steady progress and determination towards becoming a member of NATO, which Georgia’s Foreign Minister reaffirmed was a top foreign policy priority. In exchange, Allies recognized the importance of upholding the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia within its internationally recognized borders by calling on Russia to reverse its recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states. It is interesting to note that not much was said about any drive for self-determination by the people of these regions. Instead, the focus was entirely on Russia’s alleged violations of international law and OSCE principles.

Discussion of the security challenges facing member states from Russia and its actions across the former Soviet bloc took up a sizable chunk of the Summit. NATO declared that it stands together to ensure the collective defense of NATO territory and populations against any threat (although, in this context, it is clear the threat is a Russian one). NATO is currently working towards goals pledged at the Wales Summit by building on the Readiness Action Plan, including the bolstering of defense and resilience against cyber attacks and hybrid threats, and the bolstering of defense against ballistic missile attacks from outside the Euro-Atlantic area. Interestingly enough, NATO did unveil a $800 million missile receptor site in May with US 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. And thus, an important question arises: is NATO engaging in a militarization of its territories, specifically related to missile defense systems?

Nevertheless, throughout the Summit, NATO’s message regarding Transatlantic security was clear: all proposed measures were proportionate, appropriate, and transparent, and existed fully within NATO’s political and legal commitments. Whether or not this is the case can certainly be left up to interpretation. Interestingly enough, NATO also claimed that it remained fully committed to arms control and disarmament which seems comically hypocritical to its previous statements and actions declared prior to the Summit and throughout the Summit.

More specifically, regarding the situation in Ukraine, it was decided during the Summit that the Alliance would continue to condemn Russia’s alleged aggressive actions in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea, which the Alliance felt undermined Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and security. However, absolutely no mention was made of Ukrainian government forces shelling civilian areas, collaborating with fascist paramilitary organizations, and torturing captives in government facilities. In fact, the onus was placed completely on Russia. NATO released a statement that specifically condemned Russia’s supposed fostering of a persistent state of instability in Eastern Ukraine, which has led to loss of life of nearly 10,000 civilians in the Donbas region, and has deprived Ukraine of considerable economic output. Again, NATO made no mention of internal government corruption in Ukraine which has undoubtedly had a hand in affecting the economic situation in Ukraine. As expected, NATO also called upon Russia to reverse its illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula, which NATO “does not and will not recognize”. Furthermore, NATO declared that it would continue to engage in and support Ukraine within a framework set up by the NATO-Ukraine Commission. It also welcomed the adoption of a Strategic Defense Bulletin which will serve as Ukraine’s defense reform roadmap.

NATO stated that is continues to be ready for meaningful dialogue with Russia (in order to properly communicate its positions, and to “minimize risks from military incidents”) when Russia’s actions make this possible. This is perhaps one of the more ominous statements made by NATO during the Summit, because it alludes to the possibility that there may be military conflict with Russia in the future. On the other hand, this might mean that NATO is simply ready for military conflict with Russia, should such conflict arise; however, it is not necessarily a given that this will happen if Russia chooses to reverse its actions in Ukraine.

Expanding out of the Eastern theatre, NATO pledged to step up political dialogue and practical cooperation with partners in peace in the Middle East and North Africa, which includes enhancing training and capacity building for Iraq. NATO AWACS aircrafts will also be made available to support the US-led counter-ISIS coalition. It will also deepen its engagement in the Black and Baltic Sea regions and the Western Balkans, whilst maintaining a presence in Kosovo. NATO also remains committed to its Open Door policy, and welcomes its newest member, Montenegro.

On a separate note, NATO reaffirmed its commitment to Resolute Support during the Summit, and pledge to support long-term stability and security in Afghanistan. It also declared to defend Afghanistan’s integrity and to prevent it from becoming a safe haven for terrorists ever again. More specifically, it committed to

Sustaining Resolute Support post-2016 via a flexible regional model, and to deliver training and advice to Afghan Security institutions (such as the police force, air force, and special operations forces), and to keep the mission under review

  1. Continuing to pledge national contributions to the financial sustainability of the Afghan national defense and security forces until the end of 2020
  2. Strengthening and enhancing the Enduring Partnership

Afghanistan, which had representation present at the Summit, reciprocally committed to

Strengthening Afghan national defense and security forces, particularly in areas of leadership

  1. Increasing its contributions to Afghan national defense and security forces, with an aim to assume full financial responsibility by 2024
  2. Continuing to pursue democratic reform in all possible arenas, including electoral reform, the rooting out of corruption, and the empowerment of women
  3. Fully implementing Afghanistan’s National Action Plan on UNSCR 1325
  4. Enacting measures to protect children from the harmful effects of armed conflict
  5. Strengthening the capacity of the Afghan national defense and security institutions and forces to protect civilians

This is a positive step forward in the relationship between NATO and Afghanistan.

Another positive change that was made during the Summit was NATO’s pledge to ensure the Alliance keeps pace with the quickly evolving cyber threat in recognition of the new profile of security threats. This pledge involved a promise to beef up capabilities of cyberspace as with other dimension of warfare (air, land, sea) to ensure strong and resilient cyber defenses. It also included a hope to have joint EU-NATO coordination on enhancing cyber security, which would also work to strengthen overall security within the Euro-Atlantic region and would further support EU-NATO collaboration and cooperation.

To assist with this pledge to enhance cyber security, it was decided that the strengthening and enhancement of cyber defense of national networks and infrastructures is to be a priority. By individually enhancing cybersecurity and cyber networks across the Alliance, the importance of cyber defense and overall resilience of the entire Alliance will be reinforced. This shall be accomplished in the following ways:

Developing the fullest range of capabilities to defend infrastructures and networks on a national level, including the addressing of cyber defense at the highest strategic level

  1. Designating sufficient resources nationally to strengthen cyber defense capabilities of the whole Alliance
  2. Reinforcing interactions amongst national cyber defense stakeholders to deepen cooperation and exchange best practices
  3. Improving the overall understanding of the nature of the cyber threat
  4. Enhancing awareness among all cyber defense stakeholders nationally
  5. Fostering and encouraging the spread of cyber education by training and exercising forces
  6. Expediting the implementation of agreed cyber defense commitments, particularly on the national level.

The Summit marked highly significant progress in the battle against cyber warfare by decreeing this pledge, which came only weeks after NATO formally recognized cyber warfare to the fifth dimension of warfare. The progress of this pledge is to be tracked based on agreed metrics, and will be officially evaluated at the next Summit.

In summation, the Summit had many successes, but put forth many more questions. The overarching idea of the Summit was to maintain and further develop individual collective capacity to resist any form of armed attack, while projecting stability beyond the Alliance by solidifying present relations with the EU and Afghanistan, and forming new connections in the Middle East and North Africa. The Summit produced many pledges and promises that were an extension of the investment in robust, flexible, and interoperable military capabilities pledged during the Wales Summit. NATO and its partners in peace worked to address the necessary steps to enhancing resilience and reaffirming NATO foundational principles of individual liberty, democracy, human rights, and rule of law, while committing to engaging in appropriate strategic partnership with other international bodies for the purpose of providing complete protection to the Euro-Atlantic region. It is important to note, however, that the Summit did produce some decisions that could be deemed offensive, rather than defensive, to some players in the international arena. Nevertheless, they were in line with NATO’s belief that resilience is the key basis to a credible deterrence strategy. This, along with NATO’s commitment to solidarity amongst its member states, explains some of the positions taken during the Summit. It can be said that if one member is threatened, the entire Alliance is threatened, and whether or not deterrence against any threats may look like a military build-up to some international players may not necessarily be at the top of NATO’s strategic agenda. Nevertheless, the Summit played out to some degree of satisfaction for every state participant.

Maria Gladkikh


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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