WASHINGTON ― Following along the same vein as the 2016 Warsaw summit, this year’s meeting of NATO leadership in Brussels will focus on reinforcing the alliance’s military presence in Eastern Europe as part of its deterrence mission.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg outlined the five main topics for the July 2018 summit during a speech before the NATO Parliamentary Assembly on May 28.
1. Deterrence and defense
Stoltenberg said this important mission for NATO “does not just depend on the forces we have deployed, but it also very much depends on our ability to move forces to reinforce quickly if needed.” Leaders will discuss a readiness initiative to ensure the alliance is prepared to respond quickly and efficiently to Russian aggression, Stoltenberg added.
The secretary general told assembly members that NATO must accept that Russia is their neighbor and that the bear is not going away. The alliance has “to combine that strong and firm message with an openness for dialogue, partially because we need to continue to strive for a better relationship with Russia,” Stoltenberg said.
“But even if we don’t believe in a better relationship with Russia in the near future, we need to manage our relationship with Russia. ... We have to make sure we don’t have incidents, accidents and miscalculations that can lead to really dangerous situations.”
2. Projecting stability
NATO’s ability to project stability within the alliance and abroad will be a topic of debate among members. Part of this mission involves fighting terrorism. To do that, Stoltenberg emphasized the importance of training and advising local forces. ”One of the lessons we have learned from Afghanistan, Iraq but also Libya, is that in the long run it is better to train local forces and enable them to stabilize their own countries instead of NATO deploying large number of combat troops in large operations,” he said.
Stoltenberg asked leaders to discuss a train, advise and assist mission for Iraq to combat the Islamic State group
3. NATO-EU cooperation
Recent moves by the European Union to increase its role in security and defense does not bother Stoltenberg, as long the EU Permanent Structured Cooperation on security and defense, or PESCO, initiative recognizes NATO as the top security organization on the continent, he said.
PESCO has “to make sure that efforts of the EU do not compete or duplicate, but that they complement NATO efforts,” Stoltenberg said. “I welcome PESCO ― but as something that is going to supplement the European pillar within NATO, not something that will compete or be an alternative to NATO.”
NATO’s upcoming summit will address the alliance’s continuous modernization and adaptation of NATO’s command structure. Stoltenberg said he expects leaders to agree on establishing two new commands. The first is an Atlantic command for the trans-Atlantic alliance to be hosted in Norfolk, Virginia. The second is a new command for support and logistics in Germany to focus on how the alliance can reinforce and moves forces across Europe.
5. Defense spending
Perhaps one of the alliance’s most sensitive subjects is burden sharing. For Stoltenberg, this is not only determined by spending, but also by levels of contribution to NATO missions and operations. The alliance is moving in the right direction on defense spending, according to Stoltenberg, noting that all ally members have stopped cuts to defense spending and have started to increase spending in real terms.
On May 17, U.S. President Donald Trump threatened alliance members who failed to meet the organization’s defense spending target, saying they would be “dealt with.” He singled out Germany as one country he said was not doing enough.
When asked by U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, the former president of NATO’s Parliamentary Assembly, about the defense spending target of 2 percent gross domestic product, Stoltenberg again emphasized the alliance is on the right track.
“There is a political expectation that allies should spend 2 percent on defense. That is the political reality,” Stoltenberg said. “But we didn’t promise to do this within a year. We promised to do this within a decade.
“[W]e expect continued increase [in defense spending] in 2018, which means that we will have four consecutive years of real increase. So I think that the pledge has been extremely important and that it has really changed the way allies now are looking on defense investments because they have turned a corner and start to move in the right direction.”
Representatives from the 29 allied nations will gather July 11-12 to discuss these issues at NATO’s headquarters in Brussels.
Daniel Cebul is an editorial fellow and general assignments writer for Defense News, C4ISRNET, Fifth Domain and Federal Times.