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.
NATO faces unprecedented challenges from both east and south. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has caused the alliance to refocus on its original raison d’etre of territorial defense. But unconventional threats from nonstate actors and humanitarian crises fueled by ongoing conflict in the Middle East and North Africa are pushing NATO to become active in new areas. At the same time older challenges continue to linger and raise questions about the alliance’s future role. In order to provide NATO with a sense of strategic direction, the Warsaw summit must achieve 10 outcomes.
- Send four battalions to Poland and the Baltics. The force should be composed of at least 2,000 troops, ideally closer to 4,000. Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States have already agreed to lead three battalions, and the Visegrad Four – Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary – have committed a total of 600 troops. A fourth country is still needed to lead the last battalion, and Canada has been mentioned.
The difficulty of finding another NATO member to head this battalion has generated poor optics both in terms of the alliance’s deterrence credibility vis-a-vis Russia and perceptions of inadequate burden-sharing in the United States. To overcome these optics and their consequences, the Warsaw summit must result in the deployment of four battalions to Poland and the Baltics composed of soldiers from many if not most member states whose size exceeds the bare-minimum definition.
- Expand activities in migrant crisis. Since February, the alliance has sent naval vessels from several member states to help counter criminal networks in the Aegean Sea that are smuggling migrants to Europe. These activities, together with a number of other factors, have slowed the flow of migrants. Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom want to expand the mission, but Turkey is opposed because Ankara wants NATO to focus on the Black Sea where Russia is becoming increasingly assertive.
The two, however, should not be mutually exclusive. NATO has a responsibility to ensure the security of its member states in both the Mediterranean Sea and Black Sea. Poland and the Baltic countries should be particularly vocal on this issue and ready to participate in some capacity. If NATO’s front-line countries in the east show a readiness to help member states in the south address the migrant challenge, they can expect goodwill and reciprocity from them when it comes to shoring up the alliance’s eastern flank. A decision should be made at the Warsaw summit to expand NATO’s migrant mission in the eastern Mediterranean.
- Keep an open door. Montenegro completed its NATO accession negotiations in May and now awaits ratification by the parliaments of the 28 current member states. While NATO’s expansion to Montenegro sends an important message to Moscow that Russia will not have a veto over enlargement, U.S. Ambassador to NATO Douglas Lute and other officials have voiced skepticism in recent months that the process will continue after Montenegro.
The Warsaw summit must reiterate NATO’s open-door policy – and mean it. Georgia has fulfilled military reform requirements but continues to be a victim of Russian opposition. Macedonia has similarly achieved defense reform standards, but Greece is blocking its accession until the two countries can come to an agreement over the name dispute.
The Serbian military is said to be quite interested in membership even though the country’s political elites aren’t quite there yet. In Ukraine, support for NATO accession has increased from 15 percent to over 50 percent since the ouster of Viktor Yanukovych. The consequences of discouraging the NATO ambitions of these nations would include slower reforms but also greater vulnerability to negative Russian influence and even various forms of hybrid intervention.
- Reaffirm commitment to Afghanistan. NATO launched its Resolute Support mission in 2014 to train and equip the Afghan army, and the alliance must now reaffirm its commitment to maintain a steady presence in the country over a multi-year period. But the nature of this presence always has been and always will be contingent on the nature of the American presence in Afghanistan.
The United States and NATO should announce at the Warsaw summit their intention to maintain current troop levels in Afghanistan until the end of the year. For the United States, this means retaining 9,800 troops instead of reducing their numbers to 5,500 as planned. The alliance currently has 12,000 soldiers in Afghanistan. NATO collectively must commit additional resources to bolster its Resolute Support mission and support Afghan forces.
- Augment role in Islamic State group fight. The Assad-enabled and Islamic State group-dominated conflicts in Syria and Iraq have generated a refugee crisis of historic proportions that continues to threaten Europe’s security and its cohesion. NATO must play a larger role to address these conflicts.
At the moment, the alliance is training 500-600 Iraqi soldiers in Jordan, but Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi recently asked NATO to expand the program and provide training to troops inside Iraq.
The alliance should respond favorably to this request and follow through on recently expressed ideas to send AWACS surveillance aircraft to Iraq and Syria. Individual NATO member states such as Turkey, the United Kingdom, France and the Netherlands have directly taken part in airstrikes against the Islamic State group while others have contributed ammunition and equipment. But given the threat to Europe posed by the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, NATO needs to be far more involved. At the Warsaw summit, the alliance must express a willingness to augment its role in the fight to roll back and ultimately destroy the Islamic State group.
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