By Hasan Selim Özertem *
From the establishment of NATO in 1949 to the Wales Summit in 2014, 26 summits have been taken place. The Warsaw summit, which will take place on 8-9 July 2016, will go down as the 27th summit. That summit will have a historical symbolic significance; Warsaw is the city which gave its name to the pact which established by the Soviet Union against NATO during the Cold War. Considering the Warsaw Pact dissolved while NATO has managed to survive until the 21st century, it is very meaningful for NATO to hold its heads of state summit in Warsaw.
Interestingly, although issues on the summit agendas have centered on the enlargement of the organization, Kosovo, the future of security forces in Afghanistan, and international terrorism have been since 1999, this summit’s linchpin will be Russia. Since the occupation of Crimea, all dialogues with Russia have been fragile and have ultimately failed. Accordingly, this summit’s docket could be dominated by the threat posed by Russia, although this threat is not of the same level as that of the Cold War, as well as a cooperative response to this threat.
With its air defense systems and military force, Russia has changed the security balances particularly in Eastern Europe and Syria, which seriously increased the demand of NATO member countries for the alliance to restructure against hybrid threats. However, nowadays, Russia is not the only threat. Other security issues include the growing threat growing of international terrorism, particularly by ISIS; the emerging security gaps created by the increasing number of failed states; and the deepening rivalry in the realm of cyber security. Considering all of these, NATO searches for a “360-degree” response against Russia, which refers to being prepared against all threats coming from all directions, and aims to develop stronger policies against possible threats coming from the eastern and southern fronts.
The challenges faced by the Alliance
The summit in Warsaw will provide an opportunity for the alliance to articulate new tactics and strategies, which will be critical for NATO to reassert its global role and internal unity. In this respect, the Summit presents a significant opportunity for NATO to clearly reaffirm its reason for existence, while it could be questioned to what extent it would respond to the current challenges.
Within a conceptual framework, Michal Baranowski and Bruno Lété, argue in a 2016 report published by German Marshall Fund that NATO currently faces three main risks: (i) the inability to adapt to the changing nature of threats; (ii) questioning by member countries concerning the capacity of their allies and the extent to which they will fulfill their responsibilities; (iii) the difficulty of leading countries to meet the unbalanced costs and produce enough reasons to make the organization attractive. These risks are core problems that all alliances have faced throughout history. Organizations that have managed to overcome these challenges have persisted and gained strength, while those that haven’t have been relegated to the dusty pages of history, like the Warsaw Pact.
2008 is a breaking point?
Regarding the risks above, it can be argued that 2008 was a turning point. The sudden financial crisis of 2008 required many countries, particularly the US, to apply austerity policies within the Alliance. The first area to be sacrificed was defense expenditures. On the other hand, in the same year, Russia began to follow an aggressive policy and took a more active stance in use its military force, particularly following a five-day war with Georgia. The Kremlin has incrementally increased its military expenditures and equipped its army with modern weapons, and is now determined to use its military force to occupy Crimea in Ukraine and then to intervene in Syria. In reaction, this has led to formation of a strong opinion within NATO that the apron of the Alliance must be strengthened, particularly among the Eastern European and Baltic countries. However, the Alliance has recently appeared as a voluntary coalition, which has triggered new debates. In particular, the US argues that other countries do not make sufficient defense expenditures, so the main burden falls on its shoulders.
At the 2014 Wales Summit, it was again accentuated that countries should spend two percent of their GDP on defense expenditures, but they first agreed to cease the decline in military budgets. In an interview in June with Politico, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg argued that member states have managed to maintain their expenditures during the last two years, and they will focus on enhancing the expenditures to reach the two percent ratio in the coming years.
Protecting the unity and sovereignty of Alliance
Considering the three risks posited by Baranowski and Lété, NATO has made headway in managing one of these risks, albeit only partially. Cessation of the decline of military expenditures is significant for NATO to secure the necessary resources to counteract other current risks. However, one of the other risks is still an intensely debated issue, namely the extent to which the Alliance would fulfill its responsibilities towards its members.
According to studies by the RAND Corporation, the balance of power in Europe has shifted in favor of Russia, and the war scenarios have been discussed such that Russian soldiers could reach to Tallinn and Riga in 60 hours in event of a possible conventional attack. On the other hand, some entourages in Turkey question to what extent the Alliance would defend Turkey after it shot down a Russian warplane. To eliminate this and other questions, many commitments have so far been made at the level of the secretary-general, and some tangible steps have been taken, such as the deployment of air defense systems in Turkey and the strengthening of military forces in the Baltics. However, these precautions are considered as insufficient for now. In this respect, NATO is expected to convey a message at the Warsaw summit that they are ready for all threats coming from all directions, referring to NATO’s reinforced and modernized deterrence and “360-degree” defense concept.
“Nothing has changed” in eastern and southern fronts!
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has faced a dramatically changing security equation after the 2010 Lisbon summit. Besides the rise of Russia, the eruption of Arab public movements have created a landscape in which failed state structures have given rise to migration issues and international terrorism. Regarding all of these threats, the framework put forth in Lisbon presented new strategic concept which could substantially respond the current situation. However, it become has obvious that NATO will have to spend more tangible efforts to adapt to changing dynamics, particularly since 2014.
While many European member states have insisted on taking necessary precautions on the eastern front, they now also place the southern front on their agenda. The members have agreed that the two fronts are not mutually exclusive and they are strongly determined to develop a “360-degree” defense concept. There are some clues as to how NATO would achieve these aims.
The Alliance is willing to share the burden of the migration crisis in the Aegean and Mediterranean and particularly in Syria, and has already deployed a task force to the Aegean Sea. On the other hand, being aware of the changing balances with the Syrian crisis in the Eastern Mediterranean, Brussels has started to prepare some precautions specific to Turkey. Among these are an increased presence in the Eastern Mediterranean through increased visits to ports, increased intelligence sharing, commissioned AWACS in the region, and strengthened air defense systems.
On the other hand, following important experiences in Yugoslavia and Afghanistan, the Alliance aims to share the burden by developing the capacities of partner countries rather than becoming directly involved in the issues of the day. In this framework, NATO aimed to provide military trainings to some countries such as Ukraine, Tunisia, Iraq, and Jordan, and developed their capacities to make them self-sufficient against emerging risks. Therefore, NATO aims to establish a stronger structure, which increases deterrence in itself, while establish a safety line around its borders through partnership.
These policies could be regarded as NATO’s efforts to be a key partner in developing solutions for European security on some crucial issues such as terrorism and migration. NATO would protect its status as the primary defense organization in Europe as it responds its problems. However, the alliance will have a number of issues on its agenda beyond Europe, including debates about hybrid war, cyber security, and nuclear policies shaping on the global stage, when have 29 members (including Montenegro) meet. It seems that NATO could focus on strengthening the bonds within its alliance at the summit in Warsaw, and it could share its experience of partnership rather than membership. Looking towards the third decade of the 21st century, the Organization is trying to restructure itself against new challenges as it prepares for Warsaw by developing the alliance ties, strengthening and modernizing deterrence, and actively using political means.
*Hasan Selim Özertem is the Director of Centre for Energy Security Studies at the International Strategic Research Organization.