Written by Carmen-Cristina Cîrlig
NATO leaders meeting in Newport, Wales (4-5 September 2014) addressed essential questions dealing with the current European security situation, the withdrawal from Afghanistan and declining defence budgets. The next NATO Summit will take place in Warsaw, Poland in 2016.
A changing security context
The 2014 NATO Summit occurred in a challenging security context, marked by the crisis in Ukraine (largely seen as a Russian crisis), growing instability in the southern neighbourhood and rising transnational threats, such as the so-called Islamic State. While Allied leaders were expected to concentrate on NATO’s withdrawal from Afghanistan at the end of 2014, Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine changed the focus of the summit. With European security put into question and growing concerns in central and eastern Europe over the weakening of the security guarantee of the Washington Treaty’s Article 5 (collective defence), NATO leaders examined the response to Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine crisis and re-engaged in the fundamental debate over NATO’s strategic approach to Russia, its deterrence and defence posture as well as its core purpose (out-of-area operations or territorial collective defence?).
Besides the Summit Declaration, the Allies adopted several documents, namely a Joint Statement of the NATO-Ukraine Commission; a Declaration on Afghanistan and a Declaration on the Transatlantic bond. Collective defence was reaffirmed as NATO’s core mission.
Faced with the crisis in Ukraine, NATO has already taken several measures: strengthening political and military cooperation with Ukraine, as well as providing reassurance to eastern European Allies (e.g. deployment of AWACS surveillance aircraft over Poland and Romania; reinforcement of the Baltic air policing and the naval presence in the Baltic and Black Seas; redeployment of troops for training and exercises in the region). At the summit, the Allies reaffirmed NATO’s support for ‘Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity’, committed to furthering the NATO-Ukraine Distinctive Partnership, and granted Ukraine a €15 million package of support measures to strengthen the country’s defence and security capacity.
Relations with Russia
Since April 2014, all practical civilian and military cooperation with Russia has ceased and the US and EU have imposed a series of economic sanctions. At the summit, NATO leaders condemned Russia’s actions in Ukraine, although stated that they remain open to political dialogue with Russia. They tried to define their approach towards an increasingly assertive Russia, but agreement on a long-term strategy did not emerge from the summit. Even central European countries have differed in their assessments: while some countries have called for economic sanctions and the strengthening of NATO’s eastern flank, others have criticised such measures for leading to an escalation in tensions.
The Readiness Action Plan and the Eastern Allies
NATO leaders have adopted a Readiness Action Plan (RAP), in particular with the setting-up of a ‘spearhead unit’ (or ‘very high-readiness joint task force’) of 4 000 troops within the NATO Response Force able to deploy at short notice (within 48 hours). NATO maintains that these deployments will not breach its commitment to Russia not to permanently station ‘substantial combat forces’ in central and eastern Europe. Other RAP measures include: pre-positioning of equipment in the East (Baltic States, Poland and Romania), increasing the frequency of exercises, more emphasis on advance planning and response to ‘hybrid war’ (i.e. mix of military and non-military actions). In June 2014, the US launched a $1 billion European Reassurance Initiative, still to be approved by Congress, to ensure the continuing presence of US forces in the region.
According to James Appathurai (NATO), the Allies set out the next steps in supporting Afghanistan after the end of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) operation: in the short term, a training and advisory mission (‘Resolute Support’); in the medium term, granting €46 billion to sustain Afghan forces; and in the long term, Afghanistan becoming a political partner of NATO. Following the presidential election, Afghan authorities signed the legal agreements allowing for a number of US and NATO troops to stay in Afghanistan after 31 December 2014 and, implicitly, for Operation Resolute Support.
The Allies agreed to stop, and reverse, the declining trend in defence expenditure. European Allies committed to moving towards the 2% guideline and to reach 20% for annual expenditure on new major equipment, including research and development, within a decade. In 2013, the US provided 73% of NATO’s defence budget, while only three European nations reached the 2% threshold (Estonia, Greece and the UK). Ahead of the summit, some Allies set the aim of reaching 2% by 2017 (Romania) or by 2020 (Lithuania and Latvia).
NATO’s Open Door policy and NATO partnerships
The Allies reaffirmed the importance of its Open Door policy (Article 10) and the prospects for NATO membership for Georgia, Montenegro, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. In particular, NATO adopted a ‘substantial package’ for Georgia, which includes defence capacity-building, training, and enhanced interoperability opportunities. As concerns partnerships, the Allies have adopted a ‘Partnership Interoperability Initiative’ and an Interoperability Platform for NATO and partner forces to work better together. Five partners (Australia, Finland, Georgia, Jordan and Sweden) will benefit from an Enhanced Opportunities Programme. The Allies also launched a Defence and Related Security Capacity-Building Initiative to assist partners, at their request. The Allies had a first meeting with EU and OSCE representatives, to ensure better coordination among international organisations.
Enhanced cyber defence policy
The Allies adopted an ‘enhanced cyber defence policy‘, meant to improve NATO’s governance of cyber-defence, create partnerships with industry, help individual Allies to reinforce their cyber capabilities and focus more on training and education. A novelty is the possibility to invoke Article 5 following a cyber-attack, thus equating it with an ‘armed attack’ in certain situations. Nevertheless, ambiguity persists about the exact conditions that would trigger an Article 5 response and the nature of the response (military or cyber).
The summit endorsed the Framework Nations Concept, proposed by Germany, which aims at applying multinational cooperation to defence planning and policy. Three groups of Allies have been formed, each coordinated by a framework nation, dedicated to: capability development (Germany); the creation of a joint expeditionary force (UK), and the improvement of several capability areas (Italy). NATO also committed to further developing ballistic missile defence capabilities. Concerning the threat posed by Islamic State, it emerged that NATO may have a potential role in supporting an international coalition.
For some experts, Russia’s actions against Ukraine represent a wake-up call, questioning one of NATO’s main assumptions after the Cold War: that Russia no longer poses a threat. They therefore support the idea of refocusing NATO on territorial defence in Europe and deterring Russia. Other analysts conclude that NATO was already experiencing an identity crisis stemming from an unclear post-Cold War role, limited success in Afghanistan and declining defence budgets. The Wales Summit was an opportunity to address long-standing questions about NATO’s raison d’être and future role (global positioning or concentrating on European security). In any event, the summit has reaffirmed the importance of transatlantic relations and of the continued US security presence in Europe. The NATO-EU relationship has also been emphasised, with cooperation between the two organisations now considered essential to addressing hybrid threats.
The European Parliament has called for stronger cooperation between the EU and NATO, and the EP’s Security and Defence Sub-Committee recently debated the outcome of the NATO Summit. On 16 September 2014, the EP ratified the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, simultaneously with the Ukrainian Parliament in Kiev.
Europe Diplomacy & Defence, Agence Europe Bulletin on CSDP and NATO, Nos 727 and 728, September 2014.