NATO’s Warsaw summit in July 2016 ushered in a new era for the Alliance and the European project. The backdrop itself was historic: NATO allies convened in Poland for a summit for the first time in Alliance history, and did so just weeks following the UK’s historic ‘Brexit’ vote.
Despite the challenges on the agenda, the Warsaw summit exceeded modest expectations. Allies maintained their unity in the face of populist divisions, terror attacks, Russian pressure, and a fractious U.S. political debate. European Allies committed troops and resources to reinforce the security of Europe’s northeast. More than half the Allies committed to reinvestment in defence. The Alliance forged new cooperation with the European Union on resilience and cybersecurity. And NATO reaffirmed its open door policy by admitting Montenegro to its ranks. By this metric, Warsaw should be considered a success for Poland, NATO, and transatlantic security in general.
But, for Poland and NATO alike, the Warsaw summit was merely the starting point in a journey toward adapting to a new, long-term security environment. The Polish government has a critical role to play in holding Allies to their commitments taken at Warsaw. But follow-through alone will not suffice given the intense security challenges posed by Russian aggression, an unstable Middle East, and non-traditional security threats. The long-term legacy of the summit will ultimately be determined by whether the Allies deliver on their promises and continue to transform in response to a rapidly evolving threat environment.
The policies of the Trump Administration will obviously be a critical factor in determining the ultimate success or failure of the Warsaw summit, its headline goal of bolstering deterrence, and the long-term health of the Alliance. It remains too early to know precisely what policies he will pursue related to Russia or NATO.
One thing is certain, however. For NATO to secure the Euro-Atlantic area in the long run, the United States, Canada and its European Allies must exercise greater political leadership to properly resource and posture the Alliance to deter threats and ensure our individual and collective resilience for the long term .
Focus on Follow-through
For many reasons, both NATO and Poland have a keen responsibility and interest in seeing that the Allies follow through on their commitments taken at Warsaw. First, NATO’s follow-through on its promises is fundamental to the Alliance’s credibility. Second, the success of the Warsaw summit is important to the foreign policy legacy of the current Polish government. Third, the deterrence measures agreed at Warsaw are crucial to the security of Poland, the Baltic region, and the greater Black Sea area. Finally, given the transition of power in the United States, Poland can play an important role in helping a new American administration get up to speed on the implementation of the Warsaw measures.
The most important follow-through item at Warsaw is to ensure the resourcing and staffing of NATO’s troop rotations to Poland and the Baltic States, as part of the Enhanced Forward Presence. The United States, Germany, Canada, and the United Kingdom have agreed to serve as lead nations for the deployments in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. Other Allies are making important contributions to the missions as well. A key task will be to ensure that these rotations can be sustained and serve as a credible fighting force and deterrent to aggression. Nothing would do more to undermine this important new deterrence measure than for Allies to fail to resource their commitments to maintain a high level of readiness.
Second, Allies must continue to do the heavy lifting to meet the member target of allocating 2% of national GDP for defence. Warsaw reinforced the positive trend lines within the Alliance, as key Allies began to increase investments in defence. Poland, Romania, the UK, and the Baltic States have shown important leadership of late in meeting or committing to the defence funding target. Other Allies must follow their lead, particularly among major framework nations which bring a full-spectrum of capabilities to bear. Poland can work closely with the U.S. and other Allies to maintain pressure at NATO and EU meetings to ensure enhanced defence investment.
Third, NATO and the EU should build upon the cooperation established in Warsaw between the two organisations. As a leading member of both the EU and NATO, Poland can play an important role in both. In particular, Poland can provide leadership, along with Germany and France, within the framework of the Weimar Triangle. Another prospect of cooperation to be explored is between Poland and Sweden, to mitigate any vulnerability in the Baltic area stemming from Sweden’s neutrality. Cooperation between NATO and the EU should be focused not on providing duplicate capabilities within the European Union, but instead on bringing the EU’s unique capabilities to bear to bolster Euro-Atlantic security.
The Need for Renewed American Leadership
The Alliance must do more than merely follow through on the commitments taken at Warsaw. Given the scope of the security challenges, NATO Allies must show greater leadership to confront long-term strategic challenges posed by Russian aggression, terrorism, and unrest in the greater Middle East.
American leadership will be particularly important for NATO’s long-term future. Trump will need to demonstrate America’s ongoing commitment to NATO, and to strengthening the security order in Europe, at a time when the European project is facing great challenges. For years, the West has been on the defensive in the face of Russian aggression, an eroding security order in the Middle East, and emergent, anti-establishment populism within EU Member States and NATO countries. The U.S. has taken important steps in the last few years to strengthen European security, particularly with the European Reassurance Initiative. But more must be done to meet the challenges of our times. The United States needs to forge a proactive strategy to confront the threats facing the Alliance, and create enhanced economic opportunities for the North Atlantic area.
To this end, it will be important for Trump to place a premium on maintaining unity within the Alliance. Russia is skillful at exploiting divisions within the Alliance, particularly through its use of energy as a weapon, and information operations. The president-elect should strengthen U.S. engagement within Europe to bolster bonds of trust and unity. This should include renewed American engagement with Central Europe, to enhance the region’s security and democratic governance through more robust dialogue at senior levels. To achieve these goals, Trump should consider convening a joint NATO-EU summit within the first six months of his term.
Second, the United States should lock in its enhanced security posture in Europe in the face of long-term strategic challenges. Given the lasting nature of the Russian threat, Trump should work with the new Republican Congress to make available enhanced ERI funds for the base defence budget, in order to ensure long-term deterrence. For the sake of fair burden sharing, Europe should be prepared to make its own enhanced contributions to European deterrence to match the new American commitment.
Third, the United States should take steps to ensure that the Alliance adopts a proactive mentality and looks at threats across the geographic spectrum. NATO’s threats come not only from the East, but from the South as well. In the 21st century, NATO cannot sit back and wait for threat to come to its shores. Instead, the U.S. should push for a more robust partnership menu within the U.S.-EU and NATO frameworks, to enhance prosperity, good governance, and security in Africa and the Middle East.
Needed: A Coherent Europe to Share the Burden
If greater U.S. deterrence initiatives to be sustained, they must be matched by a commensurate European response. Unequal burden sharing within the Alliance became a political issue in the 2016 presidential campaign, and remains a contentious issue on Capitol Hill as well.
The new administration and Congress will want to know that the Europeans take defence seriously. That means greater defence spending from European Allies, to meet the 2% of GDP target. Europe should also show greater unity in the face of the threat from Russia. At the risk of overgeneralising, Eastern European Allies have tended to see Russia as a more serious threat than their Western European counterparts. This difference in threat perception has historical, geographical, commercial, and ideological roots. However, a realistic and shared perspective of threats and opportunities is vital to securing a better future for the entire Transatlantic community.
Our Alliance should agree that any dialogue with Russia must take place from a position of strength. Dialogue must be accompanied by strong deterrence. European countries should abandon the illusion that commercial links alone will eventually bring Moscow into the European security order it is actively trying to upend. This includes the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which Germany should cancel in the interest of Alliance solidarity.
Finally, Europe should make long-term economic investments to bolster its resilience, security, and prosperity. Military force alone will not address the security challenges of the 21st century.
Poland can lead the way by continuing its leadership of the Three Seas Initiative in cooperation with like-minded countries in Central Europe. The Three Seas Initiative should focus on the construction of a North-South energy, telecommunications, and transportation corridor infrastructure stretching from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea and Adriatic Sea to the south. The project would not only enhance the region’s resilience by fostering greater energy connectivity, but it would also offer benefits to the region’s prosperity by fostering investment in the digital economy and transport connectivity. Finally, it would send a powerful signal to Eurosceptics, about the ongoing relevance of the European project in the lives of its citizens.
The Three Seas Initiative is a fundamentally European project. But the United States should champion it and make it a priority in our diplomatic and commercial engagement with our European Allies. U.S. diplomacy can play a particularly important role in fostering greater cohesion among the Three Seas countries and the European Union, in order to bring the project to fruition. A concise list of Projects of Common Interest (PCI) under the Completing Europe Facility that are elemental to the Three Seas Initiative will expedite the required permissions, offer confidence to the business and investment community, and offer greater access to EU structural funds.
The election of the new U.S. president should not distract the Allies or NATO bureaucracy from the importance of implementing the Warsaw agenda. Given the transition in the United States, and the upcoming elections in Germany, the Netherlands, and France, Poland should leverage its continuity of government in these turbulent times to ensure the commitments of Warsaw are kept and that the Alliance continues to take bold steps to adjust to the security challenges of the 21st century.