THE 2014 WALES SUMMIT WILL ONLY START THE PROCESS OF FINDING NATO’s NEW BALANCE
By Karl-Heinz Kamp, Academic Director of the German Federal Academy for Security Policy (BAKS)
02 Sep 14. When NATO agreed last year upon convening a summit-meeting in Wales in early autumn 2014, no one could imagine how much attention such a gathering of the heads of states and governments would receive. After Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, Putin’s illegal annexation of Crimea and the shoot-down of a civil aircraft (arguably by pro-Russian rebels) public awareness grew significantly and the question of “whither NATO” is back on the agenda. What will the NATO leaders decide in Wales to cope with the neo-expansionist tendencies in Russia and what will the Alliance’s future course look like? Will NATO go back to its founding mission of securing the European continent or will it preserve its 360° perspective as a global security actor?
With respect to the Ukraine crisis, the outcome of the summit appears to be fairly predictable. Probably to the surprise of Mr. Putin, NATO has proven remarkably united, despite its limited power to respond to Russia’s aggression against a non-NATO member. Of course, allies differ on the intensity of using military countermeasures or economic sanctions against Moscow, depending on their geographical proximity to Russia or their current economic situation. Still, all 28 members are aware that in order to preserve NATO’s territorial integrity and political cohesion the Alliance has to act by sending a double message to Russia: a signal of resolve and decisiveness and to the allies in the East: a sign of a credible defense commitment. To convey this dual message NATO will agree on enhancing its rapid reaction capabilities (NATO Response Force, NRF), on reassessing its contingency plans and on bolstering its military presence in Eastern Europe through more exercises and the rotation of forces. Many allies hesitate to permanently deploy NATO forces in the East simply because a meaningful military presence in Poland or in the Baltics is an extremely costly effort. Here, important steps are likely to happen on a bilateral basis – President Obama has announced to spend USD 1billion for expanding the US military presence in Eastern Europe.
Most likely, Russia will immediately condemn those measures as provocations and attempts to pour oil onto the fire of the ongoing crisis. However, taking precautionary steps against potential security challenges lies in the very nature of a defense organization like NATO and is definitely not an offensive step. What is more, none of these measures precludes cooperation with Russia in areas of common interest like managing Iran’s nuclear ambitions or protecting the Arctic from potentially negative effects of competition over new shipping routes.
Even if Russia’s challenge against peace and stability in Europe will dominate the summit, there are other topics NATO’s political leaders will have to deal with. The two almost classic ones are Afghanistan and the state of allies’ military capabilities. On Afghanistan, NATO has already agreed to withdraw all combat forces by 2014 and to launch a small follow-on mission primarily to educate Afghan security forces. The trouble is that even a small and limited operation in the Hindu Kush does not meet much enthusiasm among the 28 Alliance members – only a few have committed forces so far. The US has declared to maintain 9,800 soldiers in Afghanistan in the next years, but to reduce its military presence down to zero by the end of 2016. If NATO’s lead-nation quits the country, no other ally is likely to stay in Afghanistan regardless of how the situation in the country looks in one or two years.
A troubling issue at almost every NATO summit is the need for improving the military capabilities of the allies and the reluctance of most European members to provide sufficient resources to do so. Given that Europe is still hit by a severe finan