Russian aggression, radical Islamist terrorism, the refugee crisis, Brexit, Afghanistan. The list of challenges NATO leaders faced at the biennial summit here over the weekend was diverse, highlighting what some consider to be a post-Cold War moment of truth for the alliance to prove it still matters.
Speaking to reporters Saturday, President Barack Obama addressed what he called a “pivotal moment” for NATO.
“In the 70 years of NATO, we have perhaps never faced so many challenges at once,” Obama said. “We’re moving forward with the most significant reinforcement of our common defense at any time since the Cold War.”
NATO’s modern charge is tricky.
The alliance must reassure eastern members who are wary of Russian aggression while not antagonizing Russia into a back and forth of military one-upmanship. Meanwhile, many NATO states, particularly those in Western Europe, are feeling the domestic political pinch of the combined threat of radical Islamist terrorism and a wave of refugees from war-torn Middle Eastern states.
This all comes as Europe deals with post-Brexit fallout and the rise of nationalist sentiment across the Continent, which collectively eats away at popular support for multinational institutions such as NATO, founded as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
“The Warsaw Summit comes at a defining moment in the history of our alliance,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Friday. “With unpredictable threats and complex challenges from many directions, NATO has responded. We have launched a wholesale reinforcement of our collective defense and deterrence. The biggest since the end of the Cold War.”
Pomp and Circumstance
The two-day NATO summit was held at Warsaw’s national stadium. Delegates and journalists from around the world filled the hallways, rubbing shoulders with world leaders and military officials. Journalists jockeyed for position at press conferences, afterwards scrambling to the sprawling media center to file dispatches.
The stadium was under security lockdown, and one could constantly hear the sounds of police sirens as the motorcades of world leaders arrived and departed.
The city was also on high alert. Warsaw’s streets were unusually quiet, long stretches sealed off for security reasons. Soldiers patrolled with weapons drawn. Friday, the sky roared with the sound of jet noise as NATO warplanes performed fly-bys for visiting leaders.
Obama’s Saturday evening press conference drew by far the biggest audience. The summit’s largest press briefing venue was filled to capacity, with journalists standing huddled along the walls, craning their necks for a better view of the U.S. president while under the watchful eyes of the Secret Service.
Like a conductor before an orchestra, a cacophony of clicking camera shutters matched Obama’s every hand gesture as photojournalists hunted for the perfect shot.
Obama commented on the Dallas shootings before he segued into the importance of NATO and the legacy of America’s commitment to defend Europe.
“Generations of Americans have served here for our common security,” Obama said. “In good times and in bad, Europe can count on the United States.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron: A multinational force “sends a strong, clear message to Russia that NATO stands ready to respond quickly to threats.”
‘Legacy of Leadership’
Obama also addressed worldwide tides of anti-globalization sentiment, which many political watchers say was partly responsible for British voters choosing to leave the European Union.
“I believe the process of globalization is here to stay. It’s happening. It’s here,” Obama said.
NATO is an example of a really enduring multilateral organization that helped us get through some really challenging times. There are fewer wars between states than ever before, and almost no wars between great powers. And that’s a great legacy of leadership in the U.S. and Europe and Asia after the end of World War II that built this international architecture that worked.
Since 2014, the Islamic State terrorist group has attacked six NATO countries—the United States, Canada, Denmark, France, Belgium, and Turkey. And terrorist plots have been thwarted in other NATO countries, including Germany and the United Kingdom.
Yet, despite the mounting threat, summit talks in Warsaw largely focused on responding to Russian aggression in Ukraine and the Russian threat to NATO’s eastern members.
“For sure Russia is a bigger threat,” Luke Coffey, director of The Heritage Foundation’s foreign policy center, told The Daily Signal:
ISIS is a terror threat and does not pose an existential threat to any NATO member. Whereas Russia invading Estonia could mean the end of the country—literally.
The French Demur
There has been, however, some breaking of ranks within NATO over Russia.
On Friday, French President Francois Hollande said: “NATO has no role at all to be saying what Europe’s relations with Russia should be. For France, Russia is not an adversary, not a threat.”
Russia is a partner which, it is true, may sometimes, and we have seen that in Ukraine, use force, which we have condemned when it annexed Crimea.
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