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Commentary | 25 May 2016

Three crucial decisions for the Warsaw Summit

Image of Klaus Naumann

Klaus Naumann |Former Chief of Staff of the German armed forces, Former Chairman of the NATO Military Committee

Deterrence NATO Russia-West Relations Security Euro-Atlantic Security

The NATO Summit in Warsaw has to chart NATO’s future course in the face of significant instability. The Alliance faces simultaneous dangers from its east, south and south-east. It is also confronted with several broader security challenges, most of them global in scope and unbound by geography.

Furthermore, the three pillars of the Alliance which helped to preserve peace and stability in the past are currently under stress.

First, NATO’s undisputed leading nation, the United States, has erroneously seen Europe as more or less at peace and has turned to its Pacific borders and towards Asia. The indispensable Atlantic pillar of NATO has thus been weakened.

Second, Russia’s manipulation of Europe’s frozen conflicts adds to the growing number of unresolved crises in Europe, which include the ongoing and pervasive European-debt problems and the massive influx of refugees into the continent. These crises have cracked and damaged NATO’s European pillar. Should these cracks widen, as would happen should the UK vote for a Brexit in the upcoming referendum, this could well destroy the EU.

Third, Russia has acted to end its partnership with the West, which it had maintained in one form or another since 1990. Russia sees NATO as a threat and therefore aims at weakening it through a well-orchestrated several-pronged approach which includes a disinformation campaign, military intimidation (including using nuclear threats) and economically self-damaging re-armament. All these efforts are being driven by Russia’s desire to be perceived as a world power on an equal footing with the United States.

Should these trends continue, NATO’s future could well be at risk. Yet NATO is and will remain the West’s best response to tackling the future dangers; the best chance for the West to return to some form of cooperation with Russia; and the West’s only option of defeating challenges such as the Islamic State.

The Warsaw Summit will have to take all necessary steps to improve NATO’s collective defence capabilities in addition to and beyond the decisions of the 2014 Wales Summit. It also has to enhance NATO’s military as well as non-military capabilities in coping with dangers, risks and instabilities beyond the NATO Treaty Area (NTA).

Three key decisions could help restore transatlantic cohesion and reassure the European allies:

  1. NATO should renew its commitment to a successful strategy of deterrence (through credible defence) and détente (through dialogue). For Putin’s Russia, it is not NATO strength and cohesion that is provocative, but rather the Alliance’s weakness and lack of determination. NATO should therefore exploit the flexibility offered by the NATO-Russia Founding Act to the fullest extent possible and strengthen its capabilities to defend the NTA collectively. It should also repeat its commitment to nuclear deterrence aiming at the prevention of any use of nuclear weapons. NATO should consider establishing additional NATO-owned and operated multinational component forces such as the Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) programme, whilst further improving the deployability of the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) throughout the NTA and in its periphery. Simultaneously NATO should offer Russia a renewed dialogue on mutual stability aiming at the restoration of the 1990 Charter of Paris principles.
  2. NATO should develop a comprehensive strategy for the security and defence of its southern and south-eastern regions and their peripheries. Such a strategy has to enhance existing Article 4 provisions, and include swift and well-tailored responses (also in the form of military deployments) to military and non-military threats before they reach the level of Article 5. The instruments of choice would be multinational NATO forces capable of cooperating with regional partners from the south and southeast through enhanced partnership arrangements. There is also a need for improved NATO-EU cooperation and enhanced partnerships with the African Union and the Gulf Cooperation Council.
  3. NATO should signal its commitment to contributing to the management of crises beyond the NTA under the provisions of Article 4. Crises outside the Treaty area will in today’s interconnected world impact on the security and stability of all NATO nations, including the two North American allies. Therefore NATO has to state with utmost clarity that the security of all its members is indivisible and that this commitment requires resolute answers and full solidarity by all members if and wherever necessary.

In a nutshell, these three decisions could strengthen NATO’s cohesion and at the same time open the door for fine-tuning NATO’s Strategic Concept to the realities of today’s dramatically changed world and to future challenges, especially once the newly elected U.S. administration is in place. Moreover, such steps might help in restoring a sense of purpose for the European foreign and security policy, which could improve EU cohesion and possibly help in developing a new vision of a Europe whole, free and at peace.


The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network or any of its members. The ELN’s aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address the pressing foreign, defence, and security policy challenges of our time.