09 December 2019

Was the NATO summit affected by the "brain death"?

Ştefan Oprea

2019, NATO’s anniversary year, was supposed to be a benchmark moment in Alliance’s history. It was time for the member states to show unity and solidarity, just like they have never done it before, at least not in the post-Cold War Era. Alike other summits, the desideratum was for the chiefs of state and government to address current security issues, adopt policies and strategies, come up with new ideas and projects and, finally, declare the transatlantic unity. Furthermore, everyone was expecting North Macedonia, officially invited at Alliance’s accession negotiations, to become the 30th NATO member, but Spain’s extended political crisis did not allow agreement’s approval for the Balkan state to become a full member.

Image source: Mediafax

It was not meant to be and inevitable happened. Tensions within the great NATO family have dwarfed the anniversary summit. Despite all planners’ attempts to cool down member states’ disputes, the reunion failed covering their deep differences.

We can say a lot about the “turmoil” that took place Tuesday, December 3rd, whose key players were the American president Trump, the French president Macron, the Turkish president Erdogan, German chancellor Angela Merkel and the Canadian prime-minister, Justin Trudeau, and their blunt remarks during the bilateral meetings and public exposures. However, we should differentiate imagination from reality.

If 2018’s summit was disturbed by military costs’ approach, this year’s summit highlighted the major vision differences within the alliance. These three presidents and the German chancellor followed their own agendas, and the Canadian prime-minister, through comments against president Trump, even on a friendly note within an informal environment, pushed him to give up the press conference at the end of the summit and leave the reunion disappointed by his “two faces” Northern neighbor.

Just like at the previous summit, president Trump’s topic was allies’ military costs. Presidents Erdogan and Macron have addressed terrorism from totally different points of view on the terrorist threats their countries are facing. Furthermore, Macron’s view on the relation with Russia is definitely opposed to NATO members’ view, as he stated that Europe’s security depends on establishing a relation with Russia.

Unlike previous stances in terms of the relation with Moscow, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, did not support France’s position this time, on “resetting” the relation.

This atmosphere, anticipated since summit’s planning, resumed its agenda to only one three hours meeting, wherein leaders had to restrict themselves to one decisional set on topics already addressed in a previous reunion with NATO’s foreign and defence ministers.

By analyzing the Final Declaration of the chiefs of states and government, the participants at the North Atlantic Council meeting from London (December 3rd and 4th 2019), even if there were some different opinions, there were also important aspects that proved NATO is an acute organization, which is constantly transforming, concurrently with the challenges the entire world is experiencing.

At its 70 years anniversary, the strongest and most successful Alliance in the history:

- despite disputes, in a jerky and volatile context, it remains the “foundation of our collective defence and the essential forum for discussions and security decisions between allies”;

- aware and responsible for the individual and collective capacity to resist all attacks, it stays committed in the joint effort to increase the defence costs, accordingly with their own direction of 2% and 20%;

- it is facing different threats and challenges coming from all strategic directions, with Russia’s aggressive actions, terrorism of all kinds and its manifestations, with state and non-state actors disputing the international order based on rules, an instability that goes beyond its borders, which increased irregular migration and, not least, cyber and hybrid threats;

- it is concerned with providing security for telecommunication infrastructure, including 5G, with protecting the energetic infrastructure and wants to provide technological performance to face the emerging and disruptive technologies and intensify hybrid threats’ response;

-it is aware of its power, stays a defensive alliance and it is not a threat for any country. Trying to adapt military capabilities, strategies and plans, the Alliance continues to be firmly committed to answering to any threat, at any time, from any direction, but it is also willing to discuss and have a constructive relation with Russia when Russia’s actions make it possible, including to fully apply the Treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons;

-it will maintain constant concern for partnerships’ consolidation, implementing the open door policies, as well as strengthening the cooperation with United Nation and EU;

-for the first time, it admits the increasing strategic challenge posed by China and Beijing’s international policies, stating that these along with both opportunities and challenges,  must be addressed together, within the Alliance;

- it is acting today to make sure it provides freedom, values and security for the following generations.

At the end of the London Summit, NATO’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, while presenting the Final Declaration, highlighted Alliance’s concerns for collective defence and the accomplishment of its objectives in term of military costs and got to an agreement on the new phase of the future NATO strategy, to strengthen even more NATO’s political dimension, including in terms of discussing important issues.

If we also add Ankara’s veto withdrawal on reviewing the Contingency plans for the Baltic States, given that the Alliance recognized all types of terrorism, we ca state there they have also made some compromises.

By assuming this declaration, the chiefs of states and governments have proved, despite internal animosities, that the security of more than one million citizens belonging to NATO countries is more important than internal disputes. Therefore, at the beginning of the eight decade, the Alliance, although is facing many challenges, stays attractive and active. Four partner countries have showed their ambitions to joint NATO: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, North Macedonia and Ukraine, given that North Macedonia is already almost a member.

Though NATO was seen as irrelevant at the end of the Cold War, nowadays’ challenges and the future ones are proving that we need a stronger NATO now more than ever. A NATO that is continuously adapting to conflict’s changes. And that’s happening because deterrence proved to be more effective than intervention. From this point of view, relying on the other allies, a union of interests and values can fight any of world’s issues. Regardless of summit’s tense moments and disagreements’ source or some issues’ unilateral agreement, the reunion proves that there is something wrong with NATO. Even if the Alliance may seem to be dealing with something, it is not the result of European defence costs, nor the lack of American commitment, but an even more serious one, the maintenance of a deterrence model, established through presence’s effectiveness.

This deterrence paradigm is becoming more and more old-fashioned given nowadays threats, generating, besides big financial costs on both Atlantic’s rims, exhausting internal breaches on burden sharing. This is the reason why this year’s summit proved, through ideas’ diversity, that it is time for NATO to consider alternative strategies that could lead to a similar same deterrence effect, offering a different balance between costs and benefits. Effective deterrence depends on one enemy’s conviction that on the other side there are both the methods and the motivation to face a threat, and NATO does not have to prove its deterrence capacity, but its willingness to do it.

Translated by Andreea Soare