Clouds over Warsaw

The forthcoming NATO Summit in Warsaw comes at a crucial time in Europe’s history. Already described a few weeks ago by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg as a turning point, the summit now also has to deal with the fallout from Britain’s decision to leave the EU.

The outcome of the UK referendum came as a shock to most of Europe’s elites, and marks a new low point in European integration and cohesion. The EU’s future development is threatened from within by the rise of nationalist, extremist and populist forces, while it has so far comprehensively failed to deal with the external threats and challenges of terrorism and mass migration from the Middle East and northern Africa.

Transatlantic concerns

At a recent international conference in Aspen, Colorado, American officials expressed deep concern about Europe’s future. A former US intelligence chief had expressed this worry earlier this year, saying that “Unpredictable insecurity is the new normal”.

Given the EU’s state of crisis, several voices in Aspen asked whether it should fall to NATO to restore the West’s credibility and unity of purpose. Others doubted whether it was realistic for NATO to act as the knight in shining armour who could bring salvation to disintegrating Western leadership structures.

Unsurprisingly, the answers are as divided as the varying expectations about NATO’s future. Since the Munich Security Conference in February, transatlantic relations have struggled to pick up momentum. Increasingly divergent positions towards the TTIP negotiations have only highlighted flaws and weaknesses in that troubled partnership.

The principal issues in Warsaw

NATO faces four major challenges:
– Instability in the Middle East and ISIS-sponsored terrorism spreading into NATO and EU Member States.
– Enduring conflict with Russia over Ukraine and following the annexation of Crimea.
– A weakened EU.
– Uncertainty over European and American leadership within the Alliance.

Germany’s evolving role

The US Administration is increasingly turning to Berlin in the hope of securing German leadership to hold Europe together in both the EU and NATO. Although some critics maintain that Berlin could and should do more, Germany’s renewed commitment to NATO and territorial defence has been a welcome surprise to many. Not only did Germany play a key role in the newly formed Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), it also provided on a rotational basis, troops to NATO’s presence on the eastern flank, took part regularly in important exercises, and worked with its allies to remake the Multinational Corps Northeast HQ in Szczecin.

Most strikingly, Berlin recently announced its willingness to serve as a framework nation on the eastern flank, promising to lead a multinational battalion in Lithuania as part of NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence. At the same time, while responding to the concerns to some of its NATO partners, Berlin focused on non-military means in an attempt to prompt a change in Russia’s stance.

Berlin has made clear its view that, despite Moscow having violated almost every norm of the NATO-Russia Founding Act, NATO should stick to the accord. To those allies who mutter that the German approach seems stubborn and wrong-headed, Berlin re-emphasises its conviction that NATO must adhere to its fundamental principles.

In parallel, Berlin has repeatedly made the case for a dual-track approach in dealing with Moscow, insisting that NATO’s new focus on deterrence be complemented by renewed diplomatic efforts to engage with Russia. Germany will accede to its allies’ request that it should contribute to the enhanced presence on the eastern flank, while expecting those same allies to show a stronger commitment to dialogue with Russia.

While there appears to be no silver lining on the horizon in terms of ending sanctions against Russia, there nevertheless may be some good news for the defence industry. The times of cutting down on defence budgets may be coming to an end, now that NATO Member State Governments have decided to boost their defence capabilities and equipment. This development should create new business opportunities for the defence industry on both sides of the Atlantic.

Germany’s strategic objective will be to forge a consensus among NATO members to secure the long-term cohesion of the Alliance. This also means that Berlin will try to act as a bridge-builder between those Member States who see Russia as the only important threat, and those who would rather look south towards the dangerous mix of fragile states, terrorist attacks and migration pressures in NATO’s southern neighbourhood.

Communicating NATO’s mission and values

This turning point in Europe’s history, has meant that NATO should go back to basics. Its narrative should be reiterated, placing more emphasis on soft power, given that the Alliance is not only based on military cooperation but on a shared system of values.

NATO as well as the EU should press the reset button and reach out, not only to its own populations, but to civil societies across the world. The Alliance has come a long way, and these success stories and achievements should be communicated by the West in the name of peace and security. Currently, it seems Putin has been more successful in spreading the word about Western failures and this has to change.

Words  Jutta Falke-Ischinger, with David Harley – Senior Advisors, Public Affairs Practice

Leave a Reply