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The 2016 NATO Summit: What will be on the agenda in Warsaw?

Copyright NATO

At their Summit in Warsaw on 8–9 July, the heads of state and government of the NATO member countries will have a very full agenda of key topics for discussion. It seems unlikely that the leaders will seek to revise key guidance documents—the 2010 NATO Strategic Concept and the 2012 Deterrence and Defence Posture Review. However, it is widely recognized that both documents contain some language and ideas that are no longer in line with the way NATO members see current security problems.

For example, even if France did not invoke article 5 of the Washington Treaty, there is a consensus among member states that the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015 were an act of armed aggression. Since 2010, the Islamic State (IS) group has joined al-Qaeda as an enemy of NATO. Moreover, NATO has now agreed that a cyberattack can, under certain conditions, be considered an act of aggression that would require an article 5 response. In addition, the current Strategic Concept describes the threat of a conventional attack against the NATO alliance as low and underlines the strategic importance of NATO-Russia cooperation. Today, while NATO stops short of describing Russia in its documents as an enemy, and continues to hold out the possibility of cooperation under certain conditions, it is equally clear that NATO no longer sees Moscow as a partner. How to deal with Russia is one of six broad interlinked agenda items that are likely to dominate the Warsaw Summit:

  • the conflict in Ukraine and relations with Russia;
  • strengthening collective defence;
  • rethinking deterrence and the roles of nuclear weapons, missile defence and cybersecurity;
  • addressing the ‘arc of crises’, especially armed Islamist extremism, while staying engaged in Afghanistan;
  • the ‘open door’ and partnerships policies; and
  • the ‘burden sharing’ debate.

These are discussed below.

 

1. The conflict in Ukraine and relations with Russia

The relationship between Russia and NATO—and the West more generally—has deteriorated, taking on a radically changed quality. Since the illegal annexation of Crimea, NATO has suspended all practical civilian and military cooperation with Russia, while leaving some channels open for dialogue. In a televised interview in Poland in May, NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that NATO would do its best to avoid escalations and promote an open dialogue with Moscow. The NATO-Russia Council met in April 2016, but Stoltenberg underlined that the meeting only reinforced the existence of what the he called profound and persistent disagreements.

 

2. Strengthening collective defence

A linked issue on the agenda will be to assess the implementation of the package of measures intended to strengthen collective defence that the leaders agreed at their previous Summit, in Wales in 2014. A number of so-called assurance measures were agreed at the Wales Summit, including establishing a continuous air, land and maritime presence and conducting meaningful military activities in the eastern part of the alliance. After 2014, plans have been developed to ensure that around 4000 troops from NATO countries will be present in the Baltic states and Poland on a rotational basis.

The small but rapid reaction force authorized in 2014 has been created to respond immediately, anywhere in the alliance, in case of need. In addition, the ‘follow-on’ NATO Response Force has been doubled in size to roughly 40,000 troops. The rotational forces and the NATO Response Force both include all the necessary air, maritime, logistic and other support.

The 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act stated that, in the circumstances prevailing at the time, the permanent stationing of substantial combat forces in Central and Eastern Europe was not necessary. Some NATO members believe that the security environment has changed in ways that mean that any undertaking given to Russia need no longer be respected. However, recent arrangements have been designed by NATO in a way that all members of the organization believe to be consistent with the text of the 1997 Founding Act.

The Wales Summit also decided to increase the number of military exercises conducted each year, and to design exercises using scenarios closer to the collective defence mission. In 2016 at least 23 military exercises of different sizes are planned, using a range of scenarios and hosted by 20 different nations.

Potential areas of disagreement: The ‘frontline’ NATO states would have preferred further measures to exploit the flexibility offered by the NATO-Russia Founding Act to the fullest extent possible. In March 2014, for example, Poland urged NATO to station 10 000 troops on its territory on a permanent basis, but the organization has so far resisted doing so. The United States has already taken measures to bolster forces on NATO’s eastern flank, but sustaining significant rotational forces with wider participation among member states will be challenging, and from a practical perspective a permanent presence would be easier to manage. It is likely that the USA will contribute a significant share of the 4000 troops to be part of the rotation, but the exact composition is yet to be determined and the Warsaw Summit is expected to finalize exact numbers and the exact locations for the rotational presence.

 

3. Rethinking deterrence: the roles of nuclear weapons, missile defence and cybersecurity

A third important subject for discussion among NATO leaders will be deterrence: what it means and how it can be assured given deteriorating relations with Russia. This is closely tied to national perceptions of which security problems are the most pressing, and the sense of how far a military response is the most appropriate one.

Nuclear weapons

The role of nuclear weapons in European security has recently become a subject of discussion after many years in which it was relegated to the background. Statements by senior Russian leaders have focused attention on how Russia sees the use of nuclear weapons in its military doctrine, and nuclear-capable weapon delivery platforms regularly participate in Russian military exercises. While it is unlikely that NATO will make any significant modifications to its nuclear policies at the Warsaw Summit, it is re-evaluating the role of nuclear scenarios in its crisis-management exercises. In 2015 NATO Defence Ministers conducted a focused discussion around better integrating conventional and nuclear deterrence.

Russia already undertakes exercises in which nuclear and conventional forces are closely integrated, and NATO currently carries out nuclear exercises of its own—but not in an integrated way with conventional weapons. In 2016 nuclear-capable aircraft, such as the F‑15E Strike Eagles normally stationed at RAF Lakenheath in England, participated in Exercise INIOHOS in Greece, perhaps to remind Russia that the United States has nuclear capabilities in Europe. In addition, the strategic nuclear capabilities of France, the United Kingdom and the USA could also be available to NATO if required.

Missile defence

In 2010 NATO authorized the development of a missile defence architecture that would provide equal protection to European NATO states in case of attack by a small number of short- and medium-range ballistic missiles. The Warsaw Summit will review the implementation of the 2010 decisions. Until now the United States and NATO have defined their missile defence programmes as directed against exclusively non-Russian threats.

Cybersecurity and other multidimensional challenges

There is a new military environment at the periphery of NATO, and a growing sense that it faces a multidimensional challenge. Growing military capabilities are combining with new types of threat posed by dedicated tools for cyberwarfare, the sophisticated manipulation of information in both mainstream and social media, and the strategic use of energy policy. In this case NATO leaders will consider how to combine the military reassurance measures that they have already agreed with an effective, multifaceted response to the new challenges that they face.

In particular, the Summit is likely to designate cyberwar the fifth domain of warfare (the others being air, sea, land and space). The USA did so in 2011. The distinction is important because it suggests that NATO would have the option to treat certain cyberattacks as military attacks, and respond accordingly under article 5 of the Washington Treaty.

Potential areas of disagreement: The fact that Russia is a participant in the major conflicts that are taking place in countries bordering Europe means that NATO leaders will need to consider whether the reassurance measures already defined are sufficient, or, if not, what additional decisions might be needed.

 

4. Addressing the arc of crises: taking on armed Islamist extremist movements while staying engaged in Afghanistan

A fourth issue that will be discussed in Warsaw is the contribution that NATO can make to crisis management from an arc of crises perspective. The issues this raises are the most complicated and difficult, and the discussion of them may be the most contentious. This narrative was outlined by the previous NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, and NATO’s former Supreme Allied Commander Europe, Philip Breedlove, in the Wall Street Journal in August 2014: ‘Instability rages to the south, with an arc of crises spreading from North Africa to the Middle East. And Russia is resorting to a hybrid war, with snap exercises, secret commandos and smuggled missiles’. While it is unlikely that there will be support for any new combat operations outside the area of application of the Washington Treaty, whether NATO should initiate planning for such a contingency may be discussed.

There is strong support for additional efforts in the area of capacity building, and NATO Foreign Ministers have used the term ‘projecting stability’ to describe efforts to help partners strengthen their own forces and secure their own countries. The Summit will certainly be an opportunity to assess the impact of capacity building in Afghanistan.

Capacity building in Afghanistan

At the end of 2014 NATO terminated its combat mission in Afghanistan and transitioned into Operation Resolute Support. Since January 2015, the focus of NATO in Afghanistan has been supporting the emerging Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and other Afghan security institutions under the Ministry of Interior and the National Directorate of Security as they take full responsibility for ending conflict and building peace.

The number of NATO forces has been reduced and consolidated into locations where training, advisory and assistance roles can be provided for the essential functions set out in the mission support plan agreed between NATO and the Afghan Government. Assistance is being provided on budget planning and execution, reducing corruption, force generation (i.e. how to recruit, train and equip the armed forces and other security forces), logistics, the management of civil-military relations and public diplomacy, how to plan military operations (including how to provide the necessary resources), how to build strategic and tactical intelligence relevant to the overall mission of the ANSF and how to counter the Taliban’s information warfare.

In May the NATO Foreign Ministers agreed to extend the Afghan mission beyond 2016, so the Warsaw Summit will have to consider how to ensure the success of Operation Resolute Support in the difficult security environment that still exists in Afghanistan. In particular, given the presence of groups affiliated with IS, NATO will have to consider whether to provide more—and more direct—assistance to the ANSF and other Afghan security institutions, and perhaps even resume a combat role.

The Summit is also likely to review international financial support for the Afghan security forces. NATO officials will be hopeful they can get sufficient financial commitments locked in until 2020 as the previous round of pledges expires in 2017. However, finding the US$ 6 billion a year to continue to fund the Afghan security forces will be a major headache. Since toppling the Taliban in 2001, the USA alone has contributed nearly US$ 93 billion in assistance to Afghanistan, of which more than US$ 56 billion has been spent on training, equipping and supporting Afghan security forces.

Addressing conflict in the Middle East

The role of NATO in conflict-affected locations in the Middle East is also likely to be on the agenda of leaders in Warsaw. For those countries that request it, NATO is likely to offer capacity building and training in those functional areas where it has unique expertise. For example, in discussions with countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council that are trying to build closer military cooperation among themselves, NATO can offer unique insights into joint command systems and the management of collective defence.

NATO has already agreed to send an assessment team to Iraq to explore the possibility of in-country NATO training for Iraq’s military to help it better fight IS. NATO has already trained hundreds of Iraqi officers in Jordan. NATO is also considering aiding the US-led Coalition to Counter ISIL by supplying AWACS surveillance aircraft, while Libya’s new UN-brokered government is consulting NATO on how it might rebuild its defence and security institutions. Finally, NATO is also looking to do more in the Mediterranean Sea, in cooperation with the European Union (EU) and others. NATO’s Operation Active Endeavour is likely to become a broader maritime security operation, taking on new tasks such as upholding freedom of navigation, interdiction and support to maritime counterterrorism.

Potential areas of disagreement: To what extent have NATO member states moved beyond the ‘intervention fatigue’ associated with the large-scale Western military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan? Several NATO states and partners are likely to remain very cautious about the future use of force, and concerned about measures that could lead to a ‘step-by-step’ military engagement. However, reluctance to deploy military force is also now under review given the conflict in Ukraine and growing calls to combat IS in Iraq, Libya, Syria and elsewhere.

 

5. The open door’ and partnerships policies

The Summit will also pay close attention to the the composition of NATO, now and in the future, and consider how to strengthen a range of different relationships and partnerships, first and foremost in close proximity to its borders to the East and South.

In May 2016 Montenegro signed an Accession Protocol, which is the penultimate step in joining NATO. Once that protocol has been ratified by all member states, Montenegro will become the 29th member of NATO. After Bulgaria, Romania and Slovenia joined in 2004, and Albania and Croatia in 2009, the decision by Montenegro to seek membership is a further step in consolidating participation in south-east Europe. The decision is also a signal that NATO membership is not fixed, and that additional aspirant countries such as Georgia, Macedonia and Bosnia might join in the future. However, while future enlargement of NATO membership is not excluded, in practice there is widespread agreement that in the short term the prospects for expanding the alliance are limited.

The Summit will also address the issue of how NATO works with various different partners on issues of mutual interest. NATO has built a network of partnerships with more than 40 countries from all over the globe, including countries in North Africa and the Middle East, non-NATO members in Europe—such as Finland and Sweden, which are both so-called Enhanced Opportunity Partners of NATO—and countries further afield, such as Australia, Japan and South Korea. NATO is now looking at various ways to deepen and broaden those partnerships. It might, for example, intensify political consultations by making them more frequent and more focused; or it could engage certain interested partners on specific subjects of common concern by using established forums, such as the Mediterranean Dialogue and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, as well as smaller, more flexible formats.

There have been indications of increasingly positive cooperation between NATO and the EU. Federica Mogherini, the EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, and the Foreign Ministers of Finland and Sweden participated in the May NATO ministerial meeting. This was interpreted as a signal that further NATO-EU cooperation could be expected, both on functional issues—such as cybersecurity and strategic communications to counteract information operations—and in operations such as the recent cooperation to address human trafficking.

 

6. Burden sharing

At the Wales Summit, NATO made a defence investment pledge that will be assessed in Warsaw. The alliance pledged to move progressively towards allocating 2 per cent of member states’ GDP to defence and, perhaps as important, allocate at least 20 per cent of their defence budgets to major equipment, including Research & Development. To give substance to this pledge, a number have stopped the successive reductions in military spending that took place in the years before the Wales summit, and in some cases have begun to increase military spending. It is too soon to say how the increased resources will be used.

Potential areas of disagreement: This debate is one of the longest running fault lines within NATO, with accusations that Europe spends too little on defence and is being protected at US taxpayers’ expense. While the USA does pick up a disproportionate share of the NATO tab, the imbalance is not as great as is sometimes suggested. At the Warsaw Summit, evidence that the military spending of European member states is no longer falling, and is beginning to increase, is likely to be highlighted as a successful outcome of the decisions taken in Wales in 2014. However, persuading Europe’s taxpayers to make further significant increases in defence spending remains an uphill challenge. Moreover, in the light of the complex security challenges that need to be addressed, whether increasing military spending is always the most appropriate response will continue to be contested.

 

'Future NATO' project

The conflict in Ukraine has forced NATO to go ‘back to basics’ and focus more on collective defence. However, it is unlikely to prevent the Warsaw Summit from continuing to advance a broader, ‘Future NATO’, project in which both capabilities and partnerships are strengthened.

NATO does not have, and will not acquire, all of the tools needed to address evolving 21st century security threats. However, the way in which NATO can consolidate and build on its partnerships is perhaps currently its least well defined area of work. As a result, the critical metric for success at the Warsaw Summit will be how the capacities available to NATO will be applied alongside those controlled by states and other international organizations.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)
Dr Ian Anthony is the Director of the European Security Programme.
Dr Ian Davis is the Executive Editor of the SIPRI Yearbook.