Warsaw NATO Summit 2016: All Not So Quiet on the Eastern Front



Lately, the political discourse has been enriched with new debate topics about the role of NATO in the years to come. One topic, based on a more pragmatic perspective of the United States, deals with a review of the U.S. obligation to protect the allies who do not fulfill their financial obligations as NATO members (e.g., have defense budgets under a pre-established approved quota).

Another topic deals with the viability of the same U.S. obligation to military protect some non-NATO countries (like Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia) who have either limited defense budgets or number of troops incapable to react if the United States were to be attacked.

Last, but not least, another concern relates to the NATO future architecture after the Brexit, and the practicality (or lack thereof) of the European Union to have some parallel military structures, with no or little U.S. contribution.

All these legitimate issues make us revisit the latest directions of action taken recently by the NATO allies during their last summit in Warsaw.

These directions have impact not only for the Northern Atlantic region, but, given the latest challenges posed by international terrorism and the various local wars, almost in equal measure to the Mediterranean and Caucasus, Northern Africa, the Near and Middle East, the Caribbean and the Pacific areas.

1. From the Warsaw Pact 1955 to the Warsaw NATO Summit 2016

Between July 8 and 9, 2016, Poland’s capital hosted the last NATO summit. It is a little ironic, if not downright surprising, that after more than six decades the tables are now turned: A NATO meeting taking place in the very Eastern European city which used to be the military headquarters of the anti-NATO former communist bloc.

Initially, on May 14, 1955, the Warsaw Pact had been created and designed in reaction to the integration, in the same year, of West Germany into NATO (which was created earlier, in 1949), and also as a tool of maintaining control and dominance of Central and Eastern Europe by the Soviet Union.

However, a longitudinal analysis of the Pact (from May 14, 1955 to July 1, 1991) shows two interesting facts. First, the Warsaw Pact and NATO never directly waged war against each other in Europe (although the US and the USSR, with their allies, worked and fought constantly for influence within the Cold War period both in Europe, and on the international arena. Second, the most notable military operations of the Warsaw Pact were, in fact, directed against its own allied countries.

Indeed, the Pact has a long and constant history of punishing its own member states that showed signs of defection from an organization whose goal was to fight the common enemy that the United States, Canada, and Western Europe were supposed to represent. Soviet troops invaded Hungary (in1956) and, backed up by armed forces of other member countries, Czechoslovakia (in 1968), removing the local governments of these countries who announced they would withdraw from the Pact. Romania and Albania did not participate with troops in the invasion of Czechoslovakia, criticizing the Moscow’s move (Albania formally withdrew from the Pact in the same year). However, when a violent anti-communist revolution erupted in Romania, in December 1989, there was no military intervention from the Warsaw Pact member states, which marked the de facto disbanding of this organization.

On February 25, 1991, in Budapest, Hungary, at a meeting of defense and foreign ministers from the remaining Pact countries (Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and the Soviet Union), the Warsaw Pact was declared disbanded. The Pact was finally dissolved on July 1, 1991.

The event was followed by the Soviet Union disestablishment, in December 1991, and the NATO joining, between 1999 and 2009, of Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland (in March 1999), Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia (in March 2004), Albania and Croatia (in April 2009).

2. Directions of action

On July 9, 2016, the Summit adopted a series of key documents outlining the NATO’s main directions of action in the period to come, related to: the final statement (called Communiqué), the European Union, Ukraine, Georgia, Afghanistan, cyber defense, and protection of civilians, plus two novel documents, related to Transatlantic security and commitment to enhance resilience.

The meeting in interoperability format at the level of Defense Ministers did not have a final document.

The Communiqué is a 139-article document presenting some important points related (but not limited) to: Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean and Caucasus regions; Northern Africa, the Near and Middle East regions; and some strategies of improving the NATO policies.

Warsaw Summit Communiqué:


2.1. Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean and Caucasus regions

These regions — being the initial zones of the NATO interoperability actions — have been granted special attention, substantiated, among others, in measures related to:

(2.1.1.) Inviting Montenegro to join the Alliance, as the 29th NATO member — a move that blocks a possible Russian corridor (through Serbia) toward the Adriatic Sea and the Mediterranean Sea (Art. 1);

(2.1.2.) Acknowledging Russia’s aggressive actions, which are a source of regional instability (Art. 5);

(2.1.3.) Declaring support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders (Art. 16);

(2.1.4.) Developing partnership relations with Finland and Sweden in the Baltic Sea region, with Georgia and Ukraine in the Black Sea region, and strengthening the maritime posture and comprehensive situational awareness in the North Atlantic, as well as in the Mediterranean Sea (Art. 23);

(2.1.5.) Establishing, in early 2017, four battalion-sized battle groups — that is, 4,000 troops — that can operate in concert with national forces, present at all times, in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, with Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States to serve as framework nations for the robust multinational presence in these aforementioned countries (Art. 40);

(2.1.6.) Establishing a multinational framework brigade under Headquarters Multinational Division Southeast in Romania, tailored to the Black Sea region (Art. 41);

(2.1.7.) Declaring the achievement of the NATO Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) Initial Operational Capability (Art. 57).

This offers a stronger capability to defend the populations, territory and forces across southern NATO Europe against a potential ballistic missile attack. It includes: the forward deployment of BMD-capable Aegis ships to Rota (Spain); the Aegis Ashore site in Deveselu (Romania); a forward-based early warning BMD radar at Kürecik (Turkey); and an Aegis Ashore site at the Redzikowo military base (Poland). By 2018, when the missile shield bases in Romania and Poland are fully operational, this defensive umbrella will cover the area from Greenland to the Azores.

(2.1.8.) Providing support to the development of Georgia’s defense capabilities needed to implement the Substantial Package, which helps Georgia advance in its preparations for the NATO membership (Art. 112). This reiterates the Alliance’s decision made at the 2008 Summit in Bucharest (Romania).

2.2. Northern Africa, the Near and Middle East regions

These regions, germane for the fight against Islamic terrorism, have been allocated a series of measures, which, on the NATO behalf, includes:

(2.2.1.) Committing to ensure long-term security and stability in Afghanistan, by sustaining the Resolute Support mission beyond 2016, including until the end of 2020, through a flexible, regional model, to continue to deliver training, advice, assistance, and financial sustainment to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (Art. 86);

(2.2.2.) Agreeing, in principle, to enhance the Alliance’s contribution to the efforts of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS/ISIL by providing direct NATO support to increase the coalition’s situational awareness (Art. 96). However, this contribution to the Global Coalition does not make NATO a member of this coalition.

(2.2.3.) Developing partnerships with countries of the Middle East and North Africa regions through deeper political dialog and enhanced practical cooperation (Arts. 103–104).

Such partnership frameworks include The Mediterranean Dialogue (MD) and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI), through which NATO provides assistance to eleven partner countries in the region to help them modernize their defense establishments and military forces (Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia — for the MD, and Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates — for the ICI).

2.3. Strategies of improving the NATO policies

NATO is facing a new world with new challenges. During the Summit there were expressed concerns vis-à-vis the NATO relations with the EU and its strategies regarding emerging technologies and their applicability in the military domain.

Only five of the current 28 member states meet the NATO guideline to spend a minimum of 2% of their Gross Domestic Product on defense (Art. 34).

The NATO Secretary General, the President of the European Council, and the President of the European Commission issued a joint declaration in Warsaw, which outlines a series of actions the two organizations — NATO and the EU — intent to take together in concrete areas, including countering hybrid threats, enhancing resilience, defense capacity building, cyber defense, maritime security, and exercises (Art. 122).

NATO recognizes the importance of a stronger and more capable European defense, which will foster an equitable sharing of the burden, benefits and responsibilities of Alliance membership (Art. 124).

In the fight against terrorism, NATO will continue to improve capabilities and technologies, including defending against improvised explosive devices and chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) threats, and enhance cooperation in exchanging information on returning foreign fighters (Art. 134).

For acquiring NATO capabilities, a stronger defense industry across the Alliance remains essential. This includes small- and medium-sized enterprises, greater defense industrial and technological cooperation across the Atlantic and within Europe, and a robust industrial base in the whole of Europe and North America (Art. 136).

It was decided that the next meeting would be held in 2017, at the new NATO Headquarters in Brussels.

3. Odd allies

It was expected that after Russia’s land invasions in Georgia (Abkhazia and South Ossetia, in 2008), Ukraine (Crimea, in 2014), and air space violations in Norway (in 2015), the Baltic nations, and Turkey (in 2016), NATO would come in stronger terms in communicating with this country. And indeed, the Communiqué contains formulas likely to suggest that, until Russia’s actions do not demonstrate compliance with international law and its international obligations and responsibilities, there cannot be a NATO return to “business as usual.”

Yet France and Germany have acted one more time as odd allies, in a visible and disturbing discrepancy to the approaches coming from the U.S., the NATO Secretary General, and the other member states.

Thus, the then-French president, François Hollande, adopting a lamentable dovish attitude, insisted that Russia is “a partner,” not “a threat.”

Moreover, he insisted that “NATO has no role at all to be saying what Europe’s relations with Russia should be. For France, Russia is not an adversary, not a threat.”

This stance has not remained without practical consequences. France insisted that the U.S. be removed from the coordination of the Aegis Ashore site in Deveselu, Romania, although the U.S. built the European missile-defense system, and the command and control be transferred to NATO (see Art. 57).

In addition, another compromise was made by deploying the four battalion-sized battle groups in the Baltic States and Poland on a rotational, not permanent, basis (see Art. 40).

On the other hand, both the German and French foreign ministers, Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Jean-Marc Ayrault, insisted on the argument that Europe should strengthen its defense role, creating irritation and worries to the U.S. and Canada, who fear that Europe would duplicate the NATO military structures.

In order to counter-balance the anti-productive positions of the French and the Germans, the NATO Secretary General, the Norwegian Jens Stoltenberg, felt complied to clarify that the Alliance should “stand together” and have a homogeneous policy on Russia. He distanced himself from Hollande’s position, saying that at this moment NATO is in an entirely new situation: “[W]e are not in the strategic partnership with Russia […] but we are neither in a Cold War situation” and that “we are in a new situation which is different to anything else we have experienced before.”

With enemies like Hollande and Steinmeier, who needs friends for Putin’s Russia?

4. Impact of the Warsaw NATO Summit for the United States

For the U.S., in general, and the former President Barack Obama, in particular, the Summit meant a limited success. The limited success consists of:

(4.1.) Deploying a U.S. armored brigade of 1,000 troops in Poland in 2017, to strengthen the NATO’s Eastern flank. This is considered the most important moment for the Alliance since the end of the Cold War.

(4.2.) Deploying, in addition, three rotational — not permanent — NATO battalions on the Eastern flank, close to the Baltic Sea, in the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The United Kingdom, Germany, and Canada will coordinate these battalions and will send around 500 troops for the battalions under their command. This is regarded as the largest dislocation of troops NATO had had since its inception, in 1949. Some skeptics have considered this an unjustifiable measure, and as a symbolic gesture, offered by the major member of the Alliance, namely the United States, to its smaller East European allies.

This is not the case. There are far fewer reasons to believe that Russia, who did not attack NATO when it had seven (later six) Warsaw Pact allies, for the whole duration of the Pact, would do it now, when all its former allies (small, indeed, but very determined) have switched sides.

(4.3.) Inviting Romania to coordinate a multinational battalion, consisting of 1,000 Romanians, 500 Bulgarians, and 500 multinational troops, on the Southern flank, close to the Black Sea (as a result of the talks between the Alliance and the Romanian President Klaus Iohannis).

(4.4.) Admitting Montenegro as the NATO’s 29th member. Montenegro, tiny as it is, and in spite of some skeptics’ opinions, secures the junction, on the Adriatic Sea coast, between the other two NATO recent members, Albania and Croatia (full members since April 1, 2009, after they were invited to join at the 2008 Bucharest Summit). Montenegro blocks effectively Russia’s access — through Serbia — to the Mediterranean Sea.

(4.5.) Implementing a plan sustaining Ukraine.

(4.6.) Continuing the supply to Afghanistan, where NATO retains a component of training and security.

(4.7.) Issuing a NATO — E.U. joint declaration on security cooperation in the fields of hybrid warfare, cyber warfare, and joint maritime operations to prevent illegal migration, where the United States is equally interested.

5. NATO and the Caribbean region

If one cannot see the connection between the powerful military organization and the Caribbean, think no further than the Cuban Missile Crisis.

In late March and April 2006, the Standing NATO Maritime Group One (SNMG-1), one out of four of NATO’s maritime groups, engaged in presence operations around the Caribbean Sea.

It was the first time NATO has ever deployed for presence operations to the Caribbean.

These operations are designed to build maritime situational awareness and demonstrate NATO’s capability to deploy and sustain forces at strategic distances. Training exercises (including anti-submarine, anti-air, and anti-surface warfare exercises) have been used as evaluation exercises for military missions in Northern Europe (e.g., the Noble Mariner evaluation exercise).

There have been also humanitarian missions, including tasks to do assistance missions with ships that provide doctors and nurses as a non-government support in disaster areas, or provide security, so the crew could safely go ashore to help, or provide medical, water and food support for small towns in the area. In other circumstances, supply ships (like the British ship Wave Ruler, part of the SNMG-1) are prepared to evacuate people in case of volcano eruptions (like in the case of the Soufrière Hills volcano on the island of Montserrat).

While some might consider the Caribbean still “an American lake”, in the spirit of the 1823 Monroe Doctrine, and, consequently, a war free-risk zone, it is not only the military component that may help the region prosper.

James Stavridis, a former NATO Supreme Allied Commander (2009–2013), and commander of the U.S. Southern Command in Miami, Florida (which he called “the true capital of the Caribbean and Latin America”) proposed several directions of actions for the U.S. regarding the Caribbean Sea and basin.

These directions include: building local partnerships through economic, political, cultural, and security cooperation; revitalizing the Caribbean Basin Initiative, with the focus on collective action; involving the U.S. Southern Command in training local forces and providing resources to improve the rule of law, basic investigative work, advanced anti-corruption techniques, surveillance, intelligence, and human rights; and not limiting on the “war on drugs.”

Another set of directions may include: bringing together the diasporas from the regions living in the U.S. today, for resources and business experience (the Cuban-American community, the Puerto Rico and the Caribbean diasporas); inter-cooperation with the continental partners of Canada and Mexico; developing a collective Caribbean strategy, in cooperation with the U.S. federal agencies; last, but not least, developing the so-called “track two” diplomacy, by coupling private sectors together, through educational reforms, programs in the arts, sport diplomacy, and medical exchanges (e.g., a series of baseball clinics conducted by the U.S. troops, and financed partly through public sector donations from Major League Baseball teams). For more details, see his article on How Captain Jack Sparrow Explains the Problem with ‘America’s Backyard’, published in Foreign Policy on February 1, 2016.

6. Post-NATO Summit Challenges

The Warsaw NATO Summit 2016 was the former President Obama’s last NATO summit and his last trip to Europe before his second mandate ended in January 2017.

The aforementioned limited success was overshadowed by the tragic events on the domestic front in Dallas, Texas, where on July 9, 2016, the last day of the Warsaw Summit, five police officers were killed during a protest demonstration by an angry African-American sniper, a military veteran who had served in Afghanistan.

Later in 2016, other NATO allies were confronted with attacks committed by Muslim citizens, residents or refugees of those respective countries, like France (shooting and vehicle ramming by a Tunisian — July 14, the French National Day), Germany (axe attack in train by an Afghan in Würtzburg — July 18; shooting by an Iranian in Munich — July 22; suicide bombing by a Syrian in Ansbach — July 24; machete attack by a Syrian in Reutlingen — July 24), and Belgium (machete attack on police officers by an Algerian in Charleroi — August 6).

In addition, on July 15 to 16, 2016, an unsuccessful coup d’état took place in Turkey, another NATO major ally, as a reflection of the fundamental division that exists in the Turkish society of today between secularists (some within the country’s top military brass) and Islamists (including President Recep Erdogan’s AKP party). As a result, the southern Turkey Incirlik air base, used by the U.S., was temporarily closed.

On the other hand, on August 4, 2016, Russia, displaying again its aggression acts, aimed to check the NATO reaction capabilities, deployed — for “an anti-terrorist exercise” on the Nistru river — an armed forces operational group in the Republic of Moldova’s secessionist region of Transnistria, close to Romania, a NATO member.

In a more worrying initiative, on August 9, 2016, Turkish president Erdogan met president Putin in Saint Petersburg, Russia, in order to “restore relations” and discuss issues of military cooperation.

All these post-NATO summit events demonstrated once more how fast an organization like NATO needs to reform itself, in order to be able to respond effectively to the increasing number of military and terrorist related events, organized by groups of a radical Islamist inspiration.





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