WASHINGTON — When NATO leaders converge on Warsaw for the alliance’s biennial summit, they will have plenty to discuss.
The summit, held at Warsaw’s National Stadium from July 8-9, will serve as both a coming-out party for Poland as a key NATO member and an opportunity for the alliance to ratify its modern goals and strategies two years after Russia’s invasion of Ukrainian territory.
So what are countries looking for from Warsaw? Unsurprisingly, many nations are going in with their own agendas, driven primarily by regional focuses.
Norway, for example, is looking for a focus on the High North region of Europe that could be imperiled by Russian naval forces. Øystein Bø, Norway’s state secretary in the Ministry of Defence, said at a May 19 event in Washington that “the maritime domain, in our opinion, needs a particular attention. ... NATO and its allies need to invest in high-end maritime capabilities. We need to improve and control arrangements. And we need to update contingency plans for the maritime plans."
“These are key deliverables to ensure that NATO remains politically and militarily credible,” he said.
While not a NATO member, friendly nations such as Sweden are also watching the summit closely. Swedish Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist, one of the Swedish officials invited to Warsaw for the meeting, said the “most important” issue for his nation is a platform for regular discussions with NATO about the local security situation.
“Many of these countries that are around the Baltic Sea are members of NATO,” he told Defense News on June 7. “We are not a member but we are in the same environment, it is the same geographical environment, so we have common interests.”
The US, meanwhile, wants to see a greater commitment to burden sharing, as previewed by US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter in a June 20 speech.
“We’re encouraging our fellow allies to do more as well,” Carter said. “We’ve seen some progress from NATO allies on spending — since the 2 percent pledge made at the 2014 Wales Summit, the vast majority of allies have stopped making cuts, and most allies have also committed to at least small increases in defense budgets — but there’s still more to do. And that will certainly be discussed in Warsaw as well.”
The good news for Carter is there appears to be an agreement among those nations closest to Russia that more equitable burden-sharing is needed.
In his May comments, Bø called for Europe to “step up to the plate. We must invest more in our own security and ensure more balanced burden-sharing across the Atlantic.”
While local concerns will drive each country, there are some overarching themes that NATO observers are carefully watching.
The first is the need to project a strong, united NATO in the face of Russian aggression, something Philip Breedlove, the recently retired four-star US Air Force general who served as the top uniformed official in NATO, highlighted in June 8 comments at the Atlantic Council in Washington. The nations must “very demonstrably” talk about the unity of the alliance, in part by following through on commitments made at the 2014 Wales Summit, Breedlove said.
“We have almost completely, structurally, finished the work that Wales gave us” Breedlove said. “But we need to show sustainment in what we started” and not lose track of that progress.
For Adam Thomson, UK permanent representative to NATO since 2014, that means a focus on “modern deterrence,” making it clear to Russia that invading NATO territory would be unwise without relying on a Cold War-style military buildup.
NATO "needs to be really clear that it is capable of meeting its treaty requirement to defend all its allies, and that requires Warsaw to set out both a model for modern deterrence and clear commitment to doing it,” Thomson said in a May interview. “And I think NATO will do that at Warsaw.”
While “modern deterrence” may be the buzzword, there is still room for classic deterrence. Perhaps the most solid deliverable expected at Warsaw is the announcement of which countries will be stationing troops as part of four new battalions deployed to Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. While NATO leaders agreed to the creation of those four units during a June meeting, details have been scarce.
For host nation Poland, the presence of NATO troops inside its border is the largest must-have coming out of the summit, said Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs Witold Waszczykowski during a June 1 meeting with reporters in Warsaw. (Defense News, among other media outlets, accepted travel and accommodations from the Polish government.)
“We do not ask for privileges. We ask for equality. That’s why equality we can gain only by deployment of NATO troops on the territory of eastern flank.” Waszczykowski said.
Another deliverable is likely to come in the form of greater NATO support for the “southern flank” in the form of aid to handle the flow of refugees from the civil war in Syria. That appears likely to include NATO agreeing to use its fleet of E-3A AWACS surveillance planes to assist in that mission.
Another aspect to watch for is the need to define a strategy for the so-called gray zone nations, those which fall between NATO’s eastern border and Russia’s western one.
Breedlove starkly laid out his concerns, noting that “we do not have a gray area strategy” that addresses the major issues, and that by reinforcing NATO’s boundaries it may leave those non-NATO nations vulnerable.
“I think by default we may have set a strategy about these nations between Russia and Europe, because we drew a very bright line at the NATO boundary,” Breedlove warned. “So by setting a policy to the west of that bright line, we have sort of, by default, set a policy to the east of that bright line.”
Asked about Breedlove’s concern in a June 17 interview with Defense News, Ukraine’s Vice Prime Minister Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze said: “I do not read it that way” and expressed hope that Ukraine will one day be approved for NATO membership.
“I think that we, as Ukrainians, have to really do our homework right now to get back to the point where we can apply for [a Membership Action Plan],” she said. “Right now we are underway of our internal changes that has to bring us closer to the possibility of application, and hopefully accession” to NATO.
Which is yet another major theme for the summit: the expansion of the alliance.
Evelyn Farkas, former US deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, said it is important to signal solidarity with non-NATO partners, including any aspirants for NATO membership.
“That’s important [to message], that while NATO is beefing up its deterrence it doesn’t mean that everybody outside the Article 5 boundary is on its own,” Farkas said. “As we build up our deterrence within the confines of Article 5, we’re also extending and building more sinew between NATO and those partners outside of NATO.
In May, NATO foreign ministers signed off on the ascension protocol for Montenegro, clearing the path for it to become the 29th full partner of the alliance if the partner nations, as expected, ratify the agreement. (When that ratification, which has to happen within each nation’s governing body, will happen is unclear, but no major roadblocks are expected.)
Montenegro would be the first new allied member since Albania and Croatia joined the alliance in 2009, but other nations hope it will not be the last to join.
At the June 8 Atlantic Council event, Zoran Jolevski, Macedonia’s defense minister, said he was hopeful movement for his nation’s application to NATO — stalled since 2008 by Greece over a historic argument regarding Macedonia’s name — would come during the summit. At the same event, Tinatin Khidasheli, Georgia’s defense minister, expressed hope that her country would receive NATO membership in the future.
“We are going to keep knocking on NATO’s door,” Khidasheli said.
Both Georgia and Ukraine have expressed an interest in NATO, despite their borders being in flux due to Russian activities. While stable borders are generally a requirement for NATO membership, Farkas believes the alliance should still move to include those nations in the future.
“Russia has de facto exercised a veto by occupying parts of those countries; it’s now put a block on our efforts to integrate them with NATO. So we may need to get creative and come up with some other solutions,” she said. “During the Cold War, Berlin was occupied even though we had Article 5 for Germany. So we clearly had some kind of carve out for that.”
However, she does not anticipate movement in that direction to come at Warsaw.