Almost every NATO summit since the end of the Cold War has been described as an inflection point. And perhaps they all have been in their own way. The NATO summit in Warsaw next week is no different.
- Contribute to stability of Libya. The Libyan unity government was formed in January and has asked NATO for assistance in its efforts to halt the spread of the Islamic State group. A serious mistake was made by the United States and those NATO member states – primarily France and the United Kingdom – who intervened in Libya in 2011 without a corresponding readiness to engage in post-conflict stabilization. The consequences of this flawed approach have emerged in the form of severe political factionalization, the rise of the Islamic State group and a migrant crisis that has brought thousands to the shores of Europe.
NATO’s interest in Libya is indisputable. At the Warsaw summit, the alliance must finally voice its willingness to contribute substantively to stability in Libya by training the country’s armed forces and deploying naval assets to interdict criminal networks that smuggle migrants. Like in Afghanistan, however, this will also require the United States to more coherently determine its own policies toward Libya.
- Emphasize cyber threats. Six months ago, hackers with widely suspected ties to the Kremlin disrupted Ukraine’s power grid and caused a blackout for hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians. This precedent-setting attack signaled proliferation of cyber warfare to the type of critical infrastructure that nearly all citizens in NATO member states rely on. Two years ago, NATO announced that the alliance may deem a cyberattack against a member state to be the equivalent of an armed attack, and NATO defense ministers recently recognized cyber as a formal domain of warfare.
But more progress must be made on the cyber front given the quickly advancing capabilities of not just Russia but also China, Iran and North Korea. At the Warsaw summit NATO should announce preparations for a collective deterrence strategy that will appropriately leverage the tools of U.S. Cyber Command while protecting America’s advantages in this critical field.
- Deepen ties with Finland and Sweden. In May, neutral Finland and Sweden for the first time participated in a NATO foreign ministers meeting, and next month prime ministers from the two countries will attend a working dinner at the NATO summit in Warsaw. Sweden recently ratified a host nation support agreement with NATO that allows the alliance to operate on Swedish territory for the purpose of training exercises and in the event of various crises or even conflict.
Both Sweden and Finland are critical to the security of NATO’s Baltic member states. Swedish and Finnish officials have been fairly transparent that closer ties with the alliance in response to Russia’s growing assertiveness in the region. But public opinion is split evenly in Sweden for the moment, and most Finns are still not interested in NATO membership. It is unlikely that either will formally seek accession to the alliance in the near future, however, the Warsaw summit should be used to deepen relations between the two countries and NATO.
- Enhance capacity-building in Ukraine.Since the Wales summit in 2015, NATO has established six trust funds to help reform and increase the effectiveness of Ukraine’s armed forces. These trust funds have helped Ukraine modernize its command, control, communications and computers (C4) capabilities; logistics system; cyber defenses; programs to reintegrate soldiers into civilian society and medical services for wounded troops.
More broadly, the alliance is also helping the Ukrainian military meet NATO standards and requirements. These initiatives need to be supplemented with capacity-building programs that are even more directly related to enhancing the effectiveness of Ukrainian forces in the Donbas, especially in countering the hybrid warfare tactics of Russian troops and Russian-backed militants. At the Warsaw summit, NATO should announce its determination to enhance cooperation with the Ukrainian military in a way that will help Kyiv defeat or at least impose heavier costs on Russian forces if ceasefire violations continue.
- Create allied Black Sea fleet.Three current NATO member states (Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria) and one NATO aspirant with close ties to the alliance (Georgia) share the Black Sea with Russia. All four countries have expressed serious concern about Moscow’s growing assertiveness in the Black Sea region. Turkey is worried that NATO’s migrant mission in the Aegean is distracting the alliance from these rising threats.
Just as Russian military aircraft have harassed and conducted dangerous overflights of U.S. vessels in the Baltics Sea, they have done the same in the Black Sea. Yet the latter does not receive the same attention as the former. The Montreux Convention places restrictions on naval activity in the Black Sea, however, NATO can still boost its presence in various ways.
Romania has proposed the creation of an allied Black Sea fleet with contributions from several member states, especially the littoral countries. The Warsaw summit should underscore NATO’s strong interest in Black Sea security and its intention to dedicate a joint naval force to the region.
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