NATO Summit — the“arc of crisis” -1

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NATO Summit — the“arc of crisis” -1

NATO Summit — the“arc of crisis” -1


*  Summit in Warsaw on 8–9 July. The possibility of cooperation under certain conditions, strengthening collective defense; addressing the ‘arc of crises’, the ‘open door’ and partnerships policies


At their Summit in Warsaw on 8–9 July, the heads of state and government of the NATO member countries will have a very full agenda of key topics for discussion. It seems unlikely that the leaders will seek to revise key guidance documents—the 2010 NATO Strategic Concept and the 2012 Deterrence and Defence Posture Review. However, it is widely recognized that both documents contain some language and ideas that are no longer in line with the way NATO members see current security problems.

For example, even if France did not invoke article 5 of the Washington Treaty, there is a consensus among member states that the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015 were an act of armed aggression. Since 2010, the Islamic State (IS) group has joined al-Qaeda as an enemy of NATO. Moreover, NATO has now agreed that a cyberattack can, under certain conditions, be considered an act of aggression that would require an article 5 response.

In addition, the current Strategic Concept describes the threat of a conventional attack against the NATO alliance as low and underlines the strategic importance of NATO-Russia cooperation. Today, while NATO stops short of describing Russia in its documents as an enemy, and continues to hold out the possibility of cooperation under certain conditions, it is equally clear that NATO no longer sees Moscow as a partner. How to deal with Russia is one of six broad interlinked agenda items that are likely to dominate the Warsaw Summit:

  • the conflict in Ukraine and relations with Russia;
  • strengthening collective defence;
  • rethinking deterrence and the roles of nuclear weapons, missile defence and cybersecurity;
  • addressing the ‘arc of crises’, especially armed Islamist extremism, while staying engaged in Afghanistan;
  • the ‘open door’ and partnerships policies; and
  • the ‘burden sharing’ debate.

These are discussed below.


  1. The conflict in Ukraine and relations with Russia

The relationship between Russia and NATO—and the West more generally—has deteriorated, taking on a radically changed quality. Since the illegal annexation of Crimea, NATO has suspended all practical civilian and military cooperation with Russia, while leaving some channels open for dialogue.

In a televised interview in Poland in May, NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that NATO would do its best to avoid escalations and promote an open dialogue with Moscow. The NATO-Russia Council met in April 2016, but Stoltenberg underlined that the meeting only reinforced the existence of what the he called profound and persistent disagreements.

  1. Strengthening collective defense

A linked issue on the agenda will be to assess the implementation of the package of measures intended to strengthen collective defense that the leaders agreed at their previous Summit, in Wales in 2014.

  • A number of so-called assurance measures were agreed at the Wales Summit, including establishing a continuous air, land and maritime presence and conducting meaningful military activities in the eastern part of the alliance. After 2014, plans have been developed to ensure that around 4000 troops from NATO countries will be present in the Baltic states and Poland on a rotational basis.
  • The small but rapid reaction force authorized in 2014 has been created to respond immediately, anywhere in the alliance, in case of need.
  • In addition, the ‘follow-on’ NATO Response Force has been doubled in size to roughly 40,000 troops. The rotational forces and the NATO Response Force both include all the necessary air, maritime, logistic and other support.

The 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act stated that, in the circumstances prevailing at the time, the permanent stationing of substantial combat forces in Central and Eastern Europe was not necessary. Some NATO members believe that the security environment has changed in ways that mean that any undertaking given to Russia need no longer be respected. However, recent arrangements have been designed by NATO in a way that all members of the organization believe to be consistent with the text of the 1997 Founding Act.

The Wales Summit also decided to increase the number of military exercises conducted each year, and to design exercises using scenarios closer to the collective defence mission. In 2016 at least 23 military exercises of different sizes are planned, using a range of scenarios and hosted by 20 different nations.

Potential areas of disagreement: The ‘frontline’ NATO states would have preferred further measures to exploit the flexibility offered by the NATO-Russia Founding Act to the fullest extent possible.

In March 2014, for example, Poland urged NATO to station 10 000 troops on its territory on a permanent basis, but the organization has so far resisted doing so. The United States has already taken measures to bolster forces on NATO’s eastern flank, but sustaining significant rotational forces with wider participation among member states will be challenging, and from a practical perspective a permanent presence would be easier to manage.

It is likely that the USA will contribute a significant share of the 4000 troops to be part of the rotation, but the exact composition is yet to be determined and the Warsaw Summit is expected to finalize exact numbers and the exact locations for the rotational presence.

  1. Rethinking deterrence: the roles of nuclear weapons, missile defence and cybersecurity

A third important subject for discussion among NATO leaders will be deterrence: what it means and how it can be assured given deteriorating relations with Russia. This is closely tied to national perceptions of which security problems are the most pressing, and the sense of how far a military response is the most appropriate one.

Nuclear weapons

The role of nuclear weapons in European security has recently become a subject of discussion after many years in which it was relegated to the background. Statements by senior Russian leaders have focused attention on how Russia sees the use of nuclear weapons in its military doctrine, and nuclear-capable weapon delivery platforms regularly participate in Russian military exercises.

  • While it is unlikely that NATO will make any significant modifications to its nuclear policies at the Warsaw Summit, it is re-evaluating the role of nuclear scenarios in its crisis-management exercises. In 2015 NATO Defence Ministers conducted a focused discussion around better integrating conventional and nuclear deterrence.
  • Russia already undertakes exercises in which nuclear and conventional forces are closely integrated, and NATO currently carries out nuclear exercises of its own—but not in an integrated way with conventional weapons.
  • In 2016 nuclear-capable aircraft, such as the F‑15E Strike Eagles normally stationed at RAF Lakenheath in England, participated in Exercise INIOHOS in Greece, perhaps to remind Russia that the United States has nuclear capabilities in Europe. In addition, the strategic nuclear capabilities of France, the United Kingdom and the USA could also be available to NATO if required.

Missile defence

In 2010 NATO authorized the development of a missile defence architecture that would provide equal protection to European NATO states in case of attack by a small number of short- and medium-range ballistic missiles. The Warsaw Summit will review the implementation of the 2010 decisions. Until now the United States and NATO have defined their missile defence programmes as directed against exclusively non-Russian threats.

Cybersecurity and other multidimensional challenges

There is a new military environment at the periphery of NATO, and a growing sense that it faces a multidimensional challenge. Growing military capabilities are combining with new types of threat posed by dedicated tools for cyberwarfare, the sophisticated manipulation of information in both mainstream and social media, and the strategic use of energy policy. In this case NATO leaders will consider how to combine the military reassurance measures that they have already agreed with an effective, multifaceted response to the new challenges that they face.

In particular, the Summit is likely to designate cyberwar the fifth domain of warfare (the others being air, sea, land and space). The USA did so in 2011. The distinction is important because it suggests that NATO would have the option to treat certain cyberattacks as military attacks, and respond accordingly under article 5 of the Washington Treaty.

Potential areas of disagreement: The fact that Russia is a participant in the major conflicts that are taking place in countries bordering Europe means that NATO leaders will need to consider whether the reassurance measures already defined are sufficient, or, if not, what additional decisions might be needed.





Dr. Ian Anthony,

Programme Director, European security programme





Dr. Ian Davis ,

Department Director, Editorial, publications and library department


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What to expect in Warsaw-1

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  1. Wo is who

    The relationship between Russia and NATO—and the West more generally—has deteriorated, taking on a radically changed quality.

  2. Wanderberg

    Looking back, few of us could have predicted the events of 2014, which will be remembered as a year of significant change in the global security environment

  3. Ken Woods

    The challenge ahead is to ensure the peaceful transition to a
    ‘multi-order world’ and to forge an overall consensus for how
    to maintain order and stability in a more diffuse and complex strategic environment.


    The suggestion that NATO should go ‘back to basics’ therefore not only goes to the heart of the structure of the Alliance as an institution resting on three pillars and which reaches further than simply challenging the validity of the current Strategic Concept. It is also a suggestion that flies in the face of the challenges arising from the emerging strategic environment and which would be likely to diminish NATO’s ability to adapt and would undermine the very foundations that have contributed to its continued relevance across very different strategic environments for more than six decades. In the new strategic environment, Alliance cohesion will be paramount, and all of NATO’s three core tasks will be needed

  5. Virginia

    The problem is that, even though NATO has access to significant strategic analysis capabilities within its own organization, its member states and some of its agencies, – NATO is often hampered in its ability to respond in the optimal way. In an organization where the practical reality is that decisions are taken according to what is politically possible rather than on the basis of what is strategically necessary long term forecasts are often ignored.

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