The NATO summit took place on July 8-9 to bolster the Alliance’s defense posture.
The leaders formalized the agreement to deploy four battalions totaling 3,000 to 4,000 troops in Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania on a rotational basis – to be in place starting next year. Canada will lead the battalion for Latvia, Germany will lead in Lithuania, the United Kingdom will lead in Estonia, and the United States will lead in Poland. Other nations such as France will supply troops. It should be noted that the United States-led battalion comes on top of an additional armored American brigade, which US officials announced earlier this year would begin rotating into Eastern Europe on a regular basis. That brings the number of fully manned US combat brigades with a presence in Europe to three. A brigade comprises about 4,200 to 4,500 troops. The leaders agreed to develop a tailored forward presence in the south-eastern part of the Alliance. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also said, defense ministers would consider calls from Romania and Bulgaria for a stronger allied air and sea presence in the Black Sea.
The summit decided to declare Initial Operational Capability of NATO’s Ballistic Missile Defence. «This means that the US ships based in Spain, the radar in Turkey, and the interceptor site in Romania are now able to work together under NATO command and NATO control», the chief official said.
The participants pledged to strengthen their own cyber defenses, and recognized cyberspace as a new operational domain. According to Stoltenberg, «This means better protecting our networks and our missions and operations, with more focus on cyber training and planning».
The Alliance reviewed and reconfirmed the importance of spending more and spending better on defence. The estimates for 2016 show an increase of 3%, or US $8 billion. «We still have a long way to go, but I believe that we have turned a corner», Stoltenberg noted.
The summit welcomed a new member – Montenegro – as a signal of NATO’s readiness to expand further.
At the summit, NATO and the EU issued their first joint declaration on security cooperation, pledging to work together particularly in the fields of hybrid warfare and cyberwarfare, as well as joint maritime operations to prevent illegal migration.
The agreement is a significant step forward in cooperation between the Atlantic Alliance and the Union, combining NATO’s military forces with the EU’s money and ambition to play a role in fighting threats, ranging from terrorism to cybersecurity, on the Continent. The document emphasizes stepping up cooperation on training activities, including on hybrid, by developing as the first step parallel and coordinated exercises for 2017 and 2018. It also has a provision on strengthening maritime capacity.
The top-level meeting marked a stepping up of NATO cooperation with non-members – Sweden and Finland – the countries excluded from decision-making but definitely part of decision-shaping process.
NATO pledged to continue funding the Afghan military and police through 2020, a key priority for Washington which picks up most of the $5 billion tab. Troop levels will be about the same in 2017 as it is in 2016. NATO’s long-expected decision to extend its training and advisory campaign comes on the heels of the decision by the Obama administration to maintain higher-than-expected troops levels in the country. The US will retain 8,400 troops in Afghanistan next year, instead of reducing them to 5,500 by the end of 2016, as originally planned. NATO’s current non-US presence in Afghanistan is about 3,000 troops. That number is likely to hold fairly steady, with an overall force presence of roughly 12,000, though final numbers still need to be worked out, Stoltenberg said.
The NATO chief could not say when its longest military engagement might end. It’s widely believed that the decision testifies to the fact that the operation in Afghanistan has been a failure.
Ukraine has each and every reason to be disappointed. It’s not topping the NATO agenda. At the summit it received nothing but words with expression of support and a Comprehensive Assistance Package, which does not offer much. Ukrainian leaders hoped that President Obama would take the opportunity after the summit to visit nearby Kiev in the waning days of his presidency. Instead, Obama has chosen to go to Spain, the largest European country he hasn’t visited yet, and a key NATO ally. He will leave office as the first president since Ronald Reagan not to visit Ukraine while in office. US Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking in Kiev on July 7, said Ukraine has a long way to go before it is NATO-ready.
Georgia also got nothing. While an offer of membership was not in the cards, there was some hope of some kind of other formal relationship. It was dashed – Georgia’s status as a NATO partner was not enhanced. No special partnership agreement was offered. The new program for cooperation announced at the summit appears to contain little new for Tbilisi. The only thing it got was the appreciation of its contribution. While many NATO countries refused to keep sizable troop numbers (if any at all) in Afghanistan for the post-combat training mission, Georgia currently maintains 860 troops in the country. This is the third-largest contribution after the US and Germany. Moreover, Georgia currently contributes an infantry company to the NATO Response Force. Despite that, all the efforts to enhance its status in the Organization go down the drain.
The summit’s decisions that envision increased military presence in the proximity of Russia’s borders are seen as a provocation by Moscow to greatly reduce European security. They bring NATO and Russia one step closer to the brink of uncontrolled arms race and heightened tensions.
There is no unity on the issue inside the Alliance. Fresh cracks appeared in NATO’s unified front on Russia when French President Francois Hollande insisted that Russia was a «not a threat» but a «partner».
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has caused consternation among his NATO counterparts by cautioning against «loud saber-rattling and shrill war cries» directed at Moscow, referring to the latest military deployments on the Alliance’s eastern flank as «symbolic tank parades».
Many Europeans oppose NATO’s plans. For instance, some 56 percent of Germans do not consider Russia as a threat to their country, with 49 percent of respondents opposing the idea of permanent deployment of NATO forces in Poland or the Baltic states.
Russia has condemned NATO’s increased military presence and invigorated activities near its territory and said it would deploy three divisions in its west and south to counter perceived aggression from NATO in Eastern Europe.
According to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, «We do not hide that we have a negative attitude toward the NATO line of moving its military infrastructure to our borders, drawing other countries into military unit activities». «This will activate the Russian sovereign right to provide its own safety with methods that are adequate for today’s risks», the Minister noted.
The NATO activities violate the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act, which reads: «in the current and foreseeable security environment, the [NATO] Alliance will carry out its collective defense and other missions by ensuring the necessary interoperability, integration, and capability for reinforcement rather than by additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces».
The NATO Secretary General said that «NATO does not seek confrontation» and will «continue to seek meaningful and constructive dialogue» with Russia. Calling the NATO-Russia Council «an important tool to manage our relationship», Mr Stoltenberg recalled that a new meeting of the Council will be held at ambassadorial level in Brussels on 13 July.
«The main focus will be on military security in the wake of decisions to be taken at the NATO summit in Warsaw», said Russian ambassador Alexander Grushko in a comment.
«We hope for a frank and serious dialogue on the issues related to the increased NATO activities near Russian borders and their impact on the security and stability in Europe and its regions», the Ambassador emphasized.
«We expect that some sort of common sense will eventually prevail. Russia has been and continues to be open to dialogue, interested in cooperation, but only if it’s mutually beneficial and takes mutual interests into account», stressed Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov.
The Council’s agenda should encompass all the burning issues that divide the sides. This could include rules concerning military activities exercises, even if it might result in some overlap with the role of the OSCE. It would probably be better for Russia and NATO to instead empower the OSCE to reinvigorate the Vienna document and other existing measures. It would be reasonable if the Council’s meeting gave a start to the talks on a new conventional arms control regime for Europe.
The meeting may not solve all the problems aggravating the Russia-NATO relationship in one fell swoon but it may kick off a process that would step by step turn the tide and make dialogue prevail over confrontation. Under the circumstances, the July 13 meeting is an opportunity to grasp. Russia has many times said it was open to dialogue. Now the ball is in NATO’s court.