NATO Summit – the“arc of crisis” -2

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*  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.

  1. Addressing the arc of crises: taking on armed Islamist extremist movements while staying engaged in Afghanistan
  • A fourth issue that will be discussed in Warsaw is the contribution that NATO can make to crisis management from an arc of crises perspective.
  • The issues this raises are the most complicated and difficult, and the discussion of them may be the most contentious.
  • This narrative was outlined by the previous NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, and NATO’s former Supreme Allied Commander Europe, Philip Breedlove, in the Wall Street Journal in August 2014: ‘Instability rages to the south, with an arc of crises spreading from North Africa to the Middle East.
  • And Russia is resorting to a hybrid war, with snap exercises, secret commandos and smuggled missiles’. While it is unlikely that there will be support for any new combat operations outside the area of application of the Washington Treaty, whether NATO should initiate planning for such a contingency may be discussed.

There is strong support for additional efforts in the area of capacity building, and NATO Foreign Ministers have used the term ‘projecting stability’ to describe efforts to help partners strengthen their own forces and secure their own countries. The Summit will certainly be an opportunity to assess the impact of capacity building in Afghanistan.

Capacity building in Afghanistan

At the end of 2014 NATO terminated its combat mission in Afghanistan and transitioned into Operation Resolute Support. Since January 2015, the focus of NATO in Afghanistan has been supporting the emerging Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and other Afghan security institutions under the Ministry of Interior and the National Directorate of Security as they take full responsibility for ending conflict and building peace.

The number of NATO forces has been reduced and consolidated into locations where training, advisory and assistance roles can be provided for the essential functions set out in the mission support plan agreed between NATO and the Afghan Government.

Assistance is being provided on budget planning and execution, reducing corruption, force generation (i.e. how to recruit, train and equip the armed forces and other security forces), logistics, the management of civil-military relations and public diplomacy, how to plan military operations (including how to provide the necessary resources), how to build strategic and tactical intelligence relevant to the overall mission of the ANSF and how to counter the Taliban’s information warfare.

In May the NATO Foreign Ministers agreed to extend the Afghan mission beyond 2016, so the Warsaw Summit will have to consider how to ensure the success of Operation Resolute Support in the difficult security environment that still exists in Afghanistan.

In particular, given the presence of groups affiliated with IS, NATO will have to consider whether to provide more—and more direct—assistance to the ANSF and other Afghan security institutions, and perhaps even resume a combat role.

  • The Summit is also likely to review international financial support for the Afghan security forces.
  • NATO officials will be hopeful they can get sufficient financial commitments locked in until 2020 as the previous round of pledges expires in 2017.
  • However, finding the US$ 6 billion a year to continue to fund the Afghan security forces will be a major headache. Since toppling the Taliban in 2001, the USA alone has contributed nearly US$ 93 billion in assistance to Afghanistan, of which more than US$ 56 billion has been spent on training, equipping and supporting Afghan security forces.

Addressing conflict in the Middle East

The role of NATO in conflict-affected locations in the Middle East is also likely to be on the agenda of leaders in Warsaw. For those countries that request it, NATO is likely to offer capacity building and training in those functional areas where it has unique expertise. For example, in discussions with countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council that are trying to build closer military cooperation among themselves, NATO can offer unique insights into joint command systems and the management of collective defence.

  • NATO has already agreed to send an assessment team to Iraq to explore the possibility of in-country NATO training for Iraq’s military to help it better fight IS. NATO has already trained hundreds of Iraqi officers in Jordan.
  • NATO is also considering aiding the US-led Coalition to Counter ISIL by supplying AWACS surveillance aircraft, while Libya’s new UN-brokered government is consulting NATO on how it might rebuild its defence and security institutions.
  • Finally, NATO is also looking to do more in the Mediterranean Sea, in cooperation with the European Union (EU) and others.
  • NATO’s Operation Active Endeavour is likely to become a broader maritime security operation, taking on new tasks such as upholding freedom of navigation, interdiction and support to maritime counterterrorism.

Potential areas of disagreement: To what extent have NATO member states moved beyond the ‘intervention fatigue’ associated with the large-scale Western military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan? Several NATO states and partners are likely to remain very cautious about the future use of force, and concerned about measures that could lead to a ‘step-by-step’ military engagement. However, reluctance to deploy military force is also now under review given the conflict in Ukraine and growing calls to combat IS in Iraq, Libya, Syria and elsewhere.


Dr. Ian Anthony,

Programme Director, European security programme


Dr. Ian Davis ,

Department Director, Editorial, publications and library department


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  1. . Warsaw has played a very active role in this debate, and the proposed expansion of the NATO outpost base at Szczecin in western Poland therefore forms a critical move to reassure allies in the region. Getting the Readiness Action Plan right is essential because NATO will not present a united front if certain allies continue to feel inadequately protected while others feel that enhanced security in one region is at the expense of NATO’s presence in their own neighbourhood.

  2. The Summit is also likely to review international financial support for the Afghan security forces.
    NATO officials will be hopeful they can get sufficient financial commitments locked in until 2020 as the previous round of pledges expires in 2017.

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