NATO is changing its course

For two days, all eyes and cameras were on Warsaw. In terms of defence, it was our most important event since 1999, when Poland joined NATO.

Now that all the hard work has been completed, we can pat ourselves on the back and calmly look back at what happened. And a lot did happen. I took part in the NATO Summit in Warsaw as an expert and will relay what I heard.

To start off, a “bird’s eye view”. The event was very well organised and we often heard people describe the set-up as “brilliant” and “excellent” while a journalist of the “Corriere della Serra” newspaper said that it was “significantly better organised than the Newport Summit in Wales”. And the results of the summit could turn out to be incredibly important and long-lasting: a giant has been awakened and persuaded to prepare for a possible confrontation with Russia. A certain recalibration has taken place, a change of tone and spirit within the Alliance. Moreover, we have managed to convince the Alliance that the danger emanating from Russia is not a symptom of Poland’s “Russophobia” but something that could have negative consequences for the whole of Europe. In short, NATO is changing its course. Added to all of this is the fact that the summit took place in the city that gave its name to the Warsaw Pact. 

19 presidents, 21 prime ministers, 60 ministers, 2,000 guests and around 1,500 journalists from all over the world. Apart from Barack Obama, also in attendance were David Cameron, Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande as well as NATO and EU leaders. Alongside the “Margaret Thatcher of the Democratic Party”, Madeleine Albright, was Nadia Shevchenko, “Ukraine’s Joan of Arc”. The gloom-mongering of Gazeta Wyborcza did not bear any fruit. The newspaper had predicted that world leaders would ignore the Warsaw Summit and that the president of the United States would want to punish us by not attending. The number of attendees was just as impressive as the organisation itself. On the eve of the event, the Financial Times wrote: “The summit proved to be incredibly important with regards to the worsening relations with Russia…it is supposed to be NATO’s response to Russia’s intervention in the Crimea and Ukraine…and the presence of NATO forces in this part of Europe will send a message not only to Moscow, but also to the West. The message is that if Russia attacks, it will have to face a fully-fledged conflict with the entire Alliance”. Subsequent events confirmed the assumptions made by the Financial Times.

It was clear to see that President Andrzej Duda decided that Poland would not only be the host of the event, but also a very active host and a co-shaper of compromises. Intensive diplomatic talks took place throughout the course of the summit and although the most important decisions had already been established beforehand, they were still improved and tweaked during the event. The debates were difficult given that they were taking place with a backdrop of serious global events: the war in Ukraine, Brexit and the visible divisions between member states (Germany, Italy) who support unconditional dialogue with Russia and those who favour conditional dialogue (U.S., Great Britain, Poland). Despite all these obstacles, the Alliance has shown that it is strong, determined, united and ready to defend, if necessary. During a press conferences at the end of the summit we heard President Duda and others say that “we will have a real NATO force in Poland”. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on the other hand that “we showed that the Alliance is united”. President Obama said that “when it comes to European security, you can always count on us” and “NATO is an example of a multi-lateral institution thanks to which we got through many difficult times”.

Concrete decisions aimed at improving the level of security in NATO were also made in Warsaw, such as: strengthening NATO’s Eastern Flank through the deployment of four battalions consisting of 1,000 soldiers each on a rotational basis to Poland and the Baltic States. And framework countries will also deploy troops – Canada to Latvia, Germany to Lithuania, Great Britain to Estonia and the United States to Poland. The preliminary operational readiness of the anti-missile shield was announced, which means that NATO officially takes over control from the U.S. of the anti-missile defence system in Romania.  NATO member states also agreed to work together to tackle cyber-crime, signifying that aggression against one member states will be treated as an attack on the whole system. They also approved the comprehensive aid package for Ukraine, consisting of advice and information support. Jens Stoltenberg also declared that the North Atlantic Alliance would support Georgia’s efforts to maintain its sovereignty and territorial integrity. A new mission was also announced in the Mediterranean, assisting the European Union’s efforts in fighting the migration crisis in the region. Also announced were further training missions for Iraqi soldiers in Jordan, a new intelligence centre in Tunisia aimed at taking on extremists, assistance for Libya in its fight against radicals, the extension of the “Resolute Support” mission and financing the Afghan army and policy beyond 2016. As you can see, quite a lot.

And what was discussed most during the official speeches and behind the scenes? First, that a revitalisation of NATO has taken place, a process which Poland contributed to greatly. And the fact that it was the first successful attempt at bridging the gap between the levels of security in Western and Eastern Europe, of course in favour of the latter. It was also mentioned that “once the Eastern Flank was located in West Germany, while today it is in Poland, something worth remembering”. Also that nowadays we don’t have to travel to Madrid to become a member of the club, rather it is NATO that comes to us “to become revitalised” and we are playing our role in decision-making processes. It was also pointed out that the Alliance was shaken out of its slumber by the predatory raids of the Russian bear. In recent years it was difficult not to notice that the problem of the Alliance was its discrepancy between words and deeds.  Reminiscent of Hamlet and words, words, words…therefore it seems that NATO has managed get back on course in Warsaw and has reversed this dangerous trend for Europe. Time after time, the politicians’ speeches proclaimed “one for all, all for one”, a reference to Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. It has become clear that the Alliance has reminded itself about the rules of the North Atlantic Treaty, that the Alliance has become more alert with regards to current threats and more realistic compared to a few years ago. With a new sense of mission and a new vigour, NATO today appears to be a “rising” institution, while the EU in comparison seems to be “descending”, at its nadir.

That is why the agreement between NATO and the EU signed at the summit was a big success. Co-operation between these two great structures is being taken to the next, higher level – for example regarding efforts on the Southern Flank. It is clear that the EU does not have its own foreign policy – I’m not talking about the threats of sanctions made against conservative countries, because this is not a foreign policy. They don’t have their own officials who base their thinking according to European security. Their rationale of “the wars have ended, we now have peace” is not an adequate response to recent threats, Russia, uncontrolled immigrations, terrorism. One also hears that the EU should stop looking down on NATO, which is a common occurrence among high-ranking officials in Brussels. These two organisations must complement each other, work together and the agreement made between NATO and the EU in Warsaw is pushing the EU in the right direction.

Voices can be heard, mainly on the Polish side, saying that at last we have started to articulate our expectations in an assertive manner, without a demeaning attitude or an aggressive posture and in accordance with the law. By contesting the statement that “joining the EU and NATO was the pinnacle of our dreams”, we are trying to garner new instruments for us to co-shape policy with.

This is our right, as an active member of the Alliance, and we also have big development potential. Moreover, the so-called spearhead force that we decided to in Newport is not sufficient in the fact of new threats. The spearhead force is based in Spain and in the case of an attack it is not able to act fast and effectively enough. Furthermore, in February, Poland activated a project aimed at strengthening the Eastern Flank – which it then implemented in Warsaw. Although the concept of “an Eastern NATO from the Baltic to the Black Sea” is far from perfect, because Russian and NATO are not compatible, it is nevertheless a credible deterrent. That is why we are implementing the Newport project, and in the future we will add to those agreed to in Warsaw.

Increasingly good equipment, soldiers trained to a higher level and the commitment of member states to increase their military spending to at least 2% of GDP. This is something Poland has already achieved. It is worth adding here that the Americans have accused Europe on many occasions that it is America that carries the burden of maintaining the Alliance’s army. It is clear, no matter who moves into the White House in November, that pressure will be put on European member states to increase their security spending to at least 2%.  Another issue also popped up: in some European countries such as Germany and France one can hear a certain dislike for the Americans and the Atlantic Alliance. The influence of Russia’s information and propaganda efforts has also focused on creating anti-American sentiment within the European Union.

This is because the summit did not only focus on hybrid warfare and the invasion of “Green men” in the Crimea as well as Ukraine, but also about the propaganda war, online as well. A response was also provided to Germany’s requests to discontinue the “Anaconda 16” manoeuvres and it was made along the lines of: there is no shortage of platforms on which to have dialogue with Russia. There is the G8, the G20, the Normandy Triangle, the Minsk Agreements, and so on. It is Russia that is rejecting dialogue, because it is easier for it to explain the dire economic situation in the country by pointing its finger at the external foe. Clearly, NATO member states have finally realized that the reason behind Poland’s Eastern Policy is not “Russophobia” but rather historical events and Moscow’s imperial ambitions. Also of great importance was the reaffirmation of NATO’s “open door policy” as the Alliance takes on its 29th member states, Montenegro.

In short, this was a summit punctuated by mature and thoughtful – sometimes this thinking took very long – decision making. There were no media scandals, no huge fireworks, harsh words or confrontational statements that the left-wing-liberal media would have happily jumped on. The hosts made an insightful statement: “our policies are not aimed at provocation, but rather at deterrence and dialogue”. Poland also made clear that “we expect to receive support, but we will also support peace missions and education initiatives in countries that require assistance”.  Barack Obama’s position regarding Russia also underwent a change and has now become more realistic. In her “hawkish” speech, Madeline Albright said: “Russia talks about provocation, but Putin is the main provocateur”. On a different note, a fellow journalist from Great Britain told me over lunch that: “Our forces and those of Russia on the Eastern Flank are disproportionate – but these four battalions will be like putting spikes on the road”. And that is something in itself. Over the two days of the NATO Summit in Warsaw, Poland had the chance to send a message to the world: equality, security, political values, peace, but not pacifism at any price, respect for the rule of law, support for the most needy. This is quite a lot.

Elżbieta Królikowska-Avis. 14 July 2016