By Arab News
By Luke Coffey
It has now been more than 100 days since the leaders of NATO gathered in June for a major summit in Vilnius, Lithuania. With the war raging in Ukraine, this summit came at a crucial time for European security. Next year’s summit in Washington is symbolically important because it marks the 75th anniversary of NATO’s founding. To make sure that the next summit is a success, a lot of progress has to be made on some key issues. One hundred days on from the last summit, a lot of work remains to be done.
One of the biggest issues that must be resolved ahead of next year’s gathering in the US is the issue of enlargement. Since NATO was created in 1949, successive rounds of enlargement have added new members to the alliance, while bringing more stability and security across Europe. NATO’s success means that it is a club that countries want to join. No country has ever been forced or pressured into joining the alliance.
Leading up to the summit in June, expectations were high regarding Ukraine’s membership prospects. Many hoped that a formal invitation to join the alliance would be given to Kyiv. This never happened. In place of an invitation to join, the alliance created a NATO-Ukraine Council. This is meant to serve as a high-level forum for increased NATO-Ukraine engagement.
Since the summit, there has not been much progress made in terms of finding a consensus between the members on extending a formal invitation for Ukraine to join the alliance. While all members agree that Ukraine will join NATO someday, putting a timeline on this ambition remains deeply divisive. This means it is unlikely Ukraine will get an invitation next year — unless something changes. The leaders of NATO need to start working overtime to find a consensus. A failure to resolve this issue before next year’s summit would be seen as a sign of weakness by Russia.
Another matter regarding NATO enlargement that has been equally disappointing over the past 100 days regards Sweden’s entry into the alliance. Soon after Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Finland and Sweden jettisoned a long-standing policy of remaining outside military alliances and both applied to join NATO. Finland joined in April, but Sweden’s bid stalled over Turkish concerns regarding the status and role of the PKK terrorist organization in the country.
At the summit in Lithuania, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was praised for finally giving the green light to Sweden’s entry into the alliance. Because the Turkish parliament was in recess at the time, it could not vote to approve Sweden’s entry. Now, 100 days on from the summit, the Turkish parliament still has not voted on ratifying Sweden’s membership of NATO. This is another issue that needs to be resolved before the summit next year.
On a positive note, one area that NATO has made progress on since June is increasing its support for Ukraine. Arming and supporting Ukraine was a top issue in Vilnius. For the first part of the war, the US was the largest source of aid to Ukraine. This has recently changed. According to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy’s Ukraine aid tracker, total European commitments are now more than double those of the US. After totaling all forms of aid, including military, economic, humanitarian and refugee support, 20 European countries have given more to Ukraine than the US as a percentage of gross domestic product. A lot of new European commitments have been made since the summit in June.
In addition to the focus on Ukraine, NATO must also demonstrate an ability to remain flexible when dealing with new and surprising challenges. Since the last summit, there has been one unexpected geopolitical event that has had implications for the alliance.
Last month, Serbia conducted a large-scale military mobilization along its border with Kosovo. Amid simmering tensions since the beginning of the year, Serbia deployed, in the words of the White House, an “unprecedented” number of troops along its southern border. This was alarming for NATO because it maintains a peacekeeping force in Kosovo and security issues in the Balkans have traditionally spilled over into the rest of Europe.
Thankfully, NATO acted quickly. The alliance immediately increased the strength of its peacekeeping force with a deployment of hundreds of British troops based out of Cyprus. Soon after, Serbia withdrew its forces from the border with Kosovo. However, ongoing tensions between Belgrade and Pristina remain a concern for the alliance. The way things are going, the future role of NATO in the Balkans will likely be on the agenda at the next summit.
As NATO prepares for its 75th birthday next year, the alliance needs to show its people that it remains as relevant today as it was during the time of its founding during the Cold War. Russia’s actions in Ukraine make it easier to explain why NATO remains important today, but the alliance still has a lot of hard work ahead of it.
NATO needs to double down on finding a consensus regarding Ukraine’s potential membership, it needs to finalize Sweden’s entry into the alliance, and it must maintain current levels of military support for Ukraine for the foreseeable future. Overall, the past 100 days have not been encouraging. However, if these issues can be addressed over the next several months, it is still possible to lay the groundwork to make the 75th anniversary summit in Washington a success.
- Luke Coffey is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. X: @LukeDCoffey