On October 29, GMF hosted a lunch presentation and discussion entitled "The future of NATO: The debate in Central Europe," with Eugeniusz Smolar, president of the Center for International Relations (CIR) in Warsaw, and Stephen Larrabee, distinguished chair in European security at the RAND Corporation. Peter Van Praagh, senior director for Wider Europe at GMF, moderated the event. The presentation was the fourth in a series of events featuring the work of prominent European thinktanks who were recipients of GMF's 2006-2007 Transatlantic Policy Research grants.
The presentation was a culmination of a year-long research project focused on bringing the debate on a changing NATO to Central and Eastern Europe. Throughout the year, CIR organized three conferences in Poland and Georgia: "NATO and Article V," "NATO and EU in the security policies of the Central European states," and "Georgia in the transatlantic security debate." The presentation in Washington served as an opportunity to share the outcomes of the discussions in Eastern Europe with the Washington, DC, media, policy, thinktank, and diplomatic communities.
According to Mr. Smolar, participants at the events in Warsaw and Tbilisi agreed that NATO is currently the most efficient politico-military alliance, but question whether the alliance will provide Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) the ability to react to both new and traditional threats. Mr. Smolar emphasized the importance of Article V and the traditional defense role of NATO to CEE countries, citing Russia's attempts to weaken the U.S. political influence and military presence in Europe and to acquire the right of co-decision concerning [the] security situation in the region as reasons to strengthen Article V. He also linked Poland's commitment to out-of-area missions and desire for "additional security guarantees" gained by agreeing to the proposed U.S. missile defense shield in Poland to the country's desire to strengthen NATO, and in turn ensuring Poland's own security.
Mr. Smolar described the conference's consensus that "security guarantees under Article V should not lose their significance," even as some members who are "enjoying [the] post Cold-War peace dividend . . . underestimate traditional threats to other member states." According to Mr. Smolar, any future NATO transformation should be based on the credibility of Article V, allowing the alliance to battle traditional threats while expanding its capabilities and working together with Russia to fight modern threats such as terrorism, radical Islam, non-proliferation, and energy security.
Mr. Smolar concluded his remarks with commentary on future NATO enlargement in the context of Georgia's Euroatlantic aspirations, explaining that, "participants of the conferences did not express any doubts that Russia is on the way to challenge the Euroatlantic interests, particularly in the Black Sea and South Caucasus region." While Georgia continues to look westward, increasing pressure from Russia in the area will remain an obstacle to rapid integration in NATO and the EU.
Dr. Stephen Larrabee followed Mr. Smolar's presentation with a discussion on NATO's future mission, the current missile defense controversy in Poland and the Czech Republic, potential NATO enlargement, and the role of Russia in Central and Eastern Europe. Dr. Larrabee reiterated that NATO's goals have changed significantly over the past few decades, shifting from internal European issues such as the reunification of Germany and the stabilization of CEE countries, to facing global threats, which Dr. Larrabee says are of less interest to CEE countries. In adjusting to this change, NATO must also overcome America's fear that European countries are unwilling to provide real security assistance, which stems from their experience in Afghanistan.
In Dr. Larrabee's analysis of the relationship between the United States, European countries, and Russia, he commented that while Russia is going to be a difficult partner in the years to come, we are not returning to the Cold War. Dr. Larrabee elaborated that Russia feels as though it was taken advantage of in the 1990s while it was weak, and now that the country is stronger, its administration will continue to pursue taking a more active role on the world stage.
An in-depth and wide-ranging discussion followed the presentation. The discussion focused on perceptions of the war in Afghanistan, the proposed missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, and NATO's potential to respond to an Iranian nuclear threat. Participants also posed questions on the Polish-German relationship, future enlargement in the Western Balkans, Georgia, and Ukraine, and the alliance's relationship with Russia.