* The upcoming NATO summit in Warsaw comes at a moment when, in the wake of the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union, the West is facing an unprecedented threat to the unity it has built over almost seven decades. As history has shown, the best way to meet this threat is with more unity. And that means more NATO.
In 2008, at a meeting in London, NATO defense ministers agreed to begin a debate on strengthening the Alliance’s common defense and deterrence capacity.
Two years later, in Lisbon, NATO adopted its new Strategic Concept, which obliged its members to reinforce collective defense as the Alliance’s first core task.
Now, a stronger commitment to such cooperation is badly needed, with leaders advancing the conclusions reached at the 2014 summit in Newport, Wales.
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The agenda should include, first and foremost, the completion of all elements of the strengthened NATO Response Forces agreed in Newport.
These include the Force Integration Units and the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, as well as the just-certified Multinational Corps Northeast, needed to command operations.
The pre-positioning of American weapons and equipment along NATO’s eastern flank must be completed, with the United States coordinating with the host countries.
But there are even more fundamental issues that NATO leaders must address in Warsaw – issues that will shape the future of the Alliance. The first stems from the need for NATO to follow different development trajectories on its eastern and southern flanks, in order to respond adequately to the different types of threats coming from each direction.
Specifically, the threats from NATO’s south have tended to be asymmetrical, while the threats from the east are more conventional. This distinction is blurred somewhat by the intensifying conflict in northern Iraq and southern Syria; but that merely underscores the need for NATO member states to determine how to adapt to changing circumstances in both directions, and ensure that the adaptation occurs at an even pace.
In the south, the key question relates to NATO’s role in the crisis in Iraq and Syria. Direct military intervention seems highly unlikely – and that is a good thing. Indeed, as long as no NATO allies are attacked, it would be a strategic error for the Alliance to become involved in military operations in Syria and Iraq. Instead, the “coalition of the willing” should be expected to extend its mission, continuing to employ air strikes, rather than deploying ground forces.
It also seems unlikely that NATO will assume responsibilities similar to those it undertook in Afghanistan in 2003 – namely, helping to provide security in the country, while building up domestic forces. After all, that mandate lasted for more than a decade.
This does not mean that the Alliance has no responsibilities in Syria and Iraq. On the contrary, it must be prepared to support those allies that have chosen to intervene militarily and, later, those who choose to contribute to vital stabilization efforts.
NATO must also provide support in the protection of Europe’s southern border, which has been overwhelmed by the influx of refugees – a situation that Brexit supporters exploited to manipulate voters. The recent decisions to send AWACS surveillance aircraft to the Turkish border and to initiate patrol missions over the Aegean Sea are a good start, and the Warsaw summit should include these and similar measures in a special Strategy for Southern Europe.
As for the east, Russia, eager to regain influence over most of the former Soviet Union, is pursuing a cat-and-mouse rivalry with NATO, featuring repeated near-encroachment on airspace boundaries by Russian warplanes. Other dangerous maneuvers have occurred near allied aircraft and ships, primarily in the east, but also on NATO’s northern and western flanks.
Given that such behavior can quickly escalate, it must be brought under control, especially through the implementation of NATO’s so-called “forward presence.” The arrangements made at the Warsaw summit must come as close as possible to ensuring a permanent presence of allied forces in the relevant countries.
Another core issue to be addressed is the readiness and role of NATO members in responding to new challenges. This demands a review of the Readiness Action Plan that was agreed in Newport, including both its “assurance measures” (aimed at enabling Central and Eastern European NATO members to reassure their populations and reinforce their defense) and “adaptation measures” (longer-term efforts to strengthen NATO’s ability to respond to sudden crises). Compliance with the Wales Declaration on the Transatlantic Bond, which emphasizes the need for greater burden sharing among NATO allies, should also be encouraged.
It is necessary to define, in military terms, the details of a multinational NATO presence. With regard to the rotational deployment of forces in Central Europe, the US has indicated, to some extent, what it might be willing to offer. But a clearer plan must be mapped, including contingents from other allies, and backed by genuine action.
The deployment of military forces in Central Europe must be considered carefully, to ensure that the distribution of units does not undermine interoperability of the deployed forces as a whole. Likewise, rotation of forces must not be allowed to weaken the operability of the deployed contingents. The rotated units must be able to take action within time limits defined by political leaders.
Finally, the distribution among Central European countries of the resources of the American European Reassurance Initiative must be decided. Since the $310 million devoted to improvement of partner capacities does not really amount to much, the potential recipients – including my country, Poland – are eager to secure as much as possible to invest in their own infrastructure.
If this ambitious agenda is fulfilled, NATO’s Warsaw summit can help restore Western unity, so that the Alliance can reliably ensure Europe’s long-term security. No NATO member can afford to miss this opportunity.
Bogdan Klich, Minority Leader of the Polish Senate, was Poland’s defense minister from 2007 to 2011 and a member of the European Parliament from 2004 to 2007.
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