Assurance Versus Stability: Eastern Flank after the Summit
Life in Warsaw is returning to its normal pace after the world leaders left the city marking the end of the 2016 NATO Summit. The capital, as well as Poland and the broader Eastern Flank, feels considerably safer and more assured after numerous firm decisions were made at the summit.
Polish President Andrzej Duda stressed that "these were long-lasting negotiations and now one may say that NATO achieved success at the summit and that Poland achieved success as a member of the North Atlantic Alliance."
It took a quarter of a century after the end of the Cold War for NATO to decide that multinational troops will continuously rotate through the Baltic States and Poland. Starting next year the U.S. will lead the battalion in Poland, Germany will take the lead in Lithuania, Canada in Latvia, and the UK in Estonia. Altogether, around 4,000 troops will be deployed across the region. On top of that, the U.S. will establish headquarters for a new heavy brigade in Poland that will be a hub for U.S. military rotating across Europe. This declaration was supported by Obama’s speech in which he reiterated a strong U.S. commitment in ensuring Poland’s and the Eastern Flank’s security.
This announcement guarantees Eastern Europeans that from now on that deterrence against Russia will continuously increase in the years to come. This symbolic decision is greatly significant for Eastern allies as for them NATO is finally moving forward to the East. Secretary General Stoltenberg expressed that “the decisions NATO has taken will help keep nations safe in a more dangerous world.” Poland was also praised for being one of the most committed allies, considerably increasing its military spending in recent years.
President of Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaite – another winner of the NATO summit- with a great enthusiasm heralded the results of the meeting “we can call this day historic for the security of Lithuania. From today, our people can really feel calmer and more secure as a whole(…). We will be able to use full allied assistance and reinforcements if necessary. For the first time since we joined NATO we have guaranteed sophisticated, long-term military capabilities.”
Another meaningful decision was the declaration of Operational Capability in NATO’s Ballistic Missile Defense that will link together different NATO forces across eastern and southern borders. The Romanian interception site will become one of the core elements of NATO’s force, complementing U.S. military vessels in the Mediterranean and the radar in Turkey. Much attention was also given to cyberspace, which is now recognized as a new NATO operational domain. The Alliance will focus its attention on strengthening cyber defense by protecting networks, missions and operations.
A stable and democratic Ukraine has always been crucial for Polish and Central European security. However, the summit did not deliver much for Ukraine to move it closer to the Transatlantic Alliance. NATO leaders clearly supported Kyiv’s plans for reforms and officially endorsed a Comprehensive Assistance Package for Ukraine. The ultimate goal is to make Ukrainian institutions responsible for defense and security, and make them more transparent, effective, and accountable partners for the West.
While assuring Eastern Flank members, NATO could not avoid criticism from Russia accusing the Alliance of returning to Cold War politics and remilitarizing Europe. NATO’s diplomatic response stressed Russia’s destabilizing actions and aggressive military activities around NATO borders. This situation carries with it a feeling of déjà vu, bringing us back to the era when NATO and Russia based their policies on deterrence rather than on cooperation and partnership. Hopefully, the Warsaw Summit did not mark the beginning of a new Iron Curtain stretching from the Gulf of Finland to western shores of the Black Sea. Though Poland and the Baltic States received the reassurance they were aiming for, decisions at the Summit did not clearly bring more stability across the region. The status quo will nonetheless be tested by the upcoming elections in Alliance’s members.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.