At the NATO Summit in Warsaw, the political message of the Alliance’s leaders was threefold. Firstly there can be no regional division of security responsibility; extended presence on the Eastern flank of NATO, and active response to the ongoing crises in the South are not mutually exclusive. Secondly, NATO will maintain its open door policy towards nations entertaining the idea to apply for the Membership Action Plan. And finally, Russia is an important neighbour and a possible security provider. Therefore the Cold War is, and should remain, history, and dialogue will be sought.
Yet, ‘.... it is not about keeping strong, but about becoming stronger’, as Secretary Stoltenberg said in his opening speech at the WARSAW Summit Experts’ Forum (the official by-event to the NATO Summit). The fact that not even 25% of the current NATO members reach the agreed 2% norm from Wales was stipulated, and the need for financial resources was stressed, but other than that Defence budgets were hardly a publicised issue. That was politics, but there were obviously also actual measures decided on.
For starters the four multinational battlegroups, with Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States as lead-nations. These will not be permanently stationed, or rather, the national contributions filling them will rotate on a heel-to-toe basis. Each of them will be approximately 1.000 person strong, but currently there is not enough information available to estimate the actual potential combat power, and hence the deterring effect. Furthermore, it is not clear if the multinational combinations will be permanent, thus better guaranteeing proper and timely Force Generation, or if the applied mix will change, resulting in possible searches for backfill. Stationed in the three Baltic states and Poland, this measure is clearly focussed on the perceived threat to the Eastern flank of NATO.
The Southern crises receive a clear and concise set of measures. The airborne radar-systems AWACS will be tasked to inform the counter-Daesh coalition with even more accurate intelligence. The NATO training mission in Jordan for Iraqi troops will be relocated to Iraq, and NATO is ready to start a Train, Advice, and Assist mission to Libya should the government of unity request that. Also some increase in naval activities in the Mediterranean Sea is foreseen. All in all the Alliance will employ capabilities that are of much added value, but is clearly staying away from taking on more responsibilities in these crises, since other entities have the leading role.
And then there is the wider Black Sea basin. Security Forces Assistance – i.e. Generation, Organisation, Training, Enabling, Advising, and Mentoring of security forces and security institutions- to Ukraine, Moldavia, and Georgia will be continued. Turkey will be supported with intelligence from the AWACS missions for the Middle-East, and with Ballistic Missile Defence (1). Naval presence in the Black Sea will be continued and possibly stepped up. And finally, a measure that has received little attention: a Romanian brigade will be transformed into a multinational NATO brigade. There is mention of a Romanian-Bulgarian combination (which strictly speaking would make it a bi-national, and not a multinational unit), but there is also talk of a US battalion rotating to Romania, again on a heel-to-toe schedule. Should this unit be added to the Romanian-Bulgarian Brigade, that would achieve the sought after multi-nationality of all NATO endeavours. This however also would invoke strong Russian disapproval. Not a reason to forego, but certainly an effect that must be calculated into the assessment.
In conclusion the observation is, that although there can be quite some criticism or at least questioning on the measures as announced, calling them ‘sabre rattling’ or even ‘leading towards a possible (cold) war’ is about as far besides the truth as possible. If anything, the measures show restraint by finding a balance between the need for reassurance of many NATO members and yet staying far away of coming close to proportionality vis-à-vis the accumulated Russian manifestations of the recent period. No one who includes all facts could say he saw war at Warsaw…
(1) Given the current security situation in Turkey, these measures might well be postponed.