What to Expect from the Upcoming NATO Summit in Warsaw


We asked ERA Institute experts what to expect from the upcoming July 8-9 NATO Summit in Warsaw and how it may affect relations with Russia and the wider former Soviet space. Here we summarize expert opinions on NATO’s internal and external challenges that will be discussed during the summit.

The previous NATO summit in Newport was viewed by many as the revitalization of the alliance, largely triggered by the new regional security environment created as a result of Russian actions in Ukraine. However, the issues addressed at the previous summit went beyond Russia and addressed the foundational questions of the organization.

Obama’s revised doctrine and grand strategy oriented at offshore balancing combined with the heightened levels of uncertainty, rise of non-state actors, and return to the “Kissingerian” world order created a fertile ground for substantial changes to occur. The main outcomes included the fortification of alliance’s eastern flank, increased military spending among allies up to 2% of GDP, development of capabilities in dealing with asymmetrical threats and hybrid warfare.

The Newport Declaration also touched upon the former Soviet space. Out of the total 113 articles, 6 are concerned with Georgia, 18 refer to Russia and 13 to Ukraine. The Declaration has provided with some answers regarding the future trajectory of NATO, but it has also raised other questions and issues that still need to be addressed.

Prior to the summit in Warsaw it is already apparent that neither Georgia nor Ukraine will join NATO in the foreseeable future, all the while Washington is searching for alternative mechanisms to move the relations forward without offering membership. Moreover, the debate over Russia has widened the crack between the Eastern and Western flanks of the alliance.  The joint declarations and “mini-summits” initiated by the Warsaw-Bucharest-Ankara axis have been pushing for tougher policies towards Moscow, NATO’s open-door policy, and enhanced military presence in the Baltic and Black seas. These suggestions from Moscow’s perspective are viewed as hostile maneuvers that require an adequate response. In contrast, there are debates within legislatures in Paris and Berlin about lifting the sanctions on Russia.

Public opinions also vary greatly. While Western Europe is mostly neutral and does not view Russia as a major security threat, in Eastern Europe the negative collective memory towards Russia and socialist past has been the main motivation for the Euro-Atlantic pivot for the last quarter century.

Furthermore, the U.S. disengagement in the Middle East and current policies have frustrated allies in the region. For instance, American support and collaboration with Syrian and Iraqi Kurds has created an unease in Ankara, or easing tensions on Russia as well as inadequate attention towards the aggression against Ukraine has frustrated the Baltic states and other east-European countries (despite joint military drills and enhanced contingent of forces in the region). The Iran Nuclear Deal as well as the recent Brexit vote will reverberate through the wider alliance and further complicate the situation.

Summarizing the above-mentioned points, there are two main internal NATO issues to watch for: (1) the conflict of interests between the Eastern and Western European countries and (2) possible shifts in the U.S. grand strategy as outlined in the final declaration.

Considering the location of this year’s summit and current policies of the host country, particular attention will be placed upon the threats against NATO’s eastern flank, especially coming from Russia. ERA Institute fellow Michael Zeller argues:

Three patterns of recent Russian behavior will shape NATO’s relations with Russia and the wider post-Soviet space for the foreseeable future. First, Russia’s deft use of mixed instruments of war—cyber warfare, traditional military forces, training and arms distribution, agitation, et cetera—in Ukraine, all behind thinly veiled but effective deception (part of ‘maskirovka’ strategy), will prompt NATO leaders to diversify their forces, as well as their response strategies. Second, Russian air and naval activity demonstrates a desire to probe NATO defenses. Third, Russia will not permit the further expansion of NATO. Occupation of once prospective members, Georgia and Ukraine, testifies to this determination. In short, the skillful maneuvering of Russian forces, the resilience of the Putin regime against sanctions, and the solid geopolitical position of Russia will prompt a forward deployed defense from NATO—not expanding or overreaching, but with new resolve to protect its members and interests.

This perceived external threat is also connected to the internal challenges. Coordination of activities and strategy among the member states will determine the future of NATO as well as its relations vis-à-vis Russia. As ERA Institute fellow Alexander Osadta states:

NATO’s summit this year will have a busy agenda. In Warsaw this year the main focus will be on strengthening NATO’s ability to mobilize and react quickly in situations of crisis, whether it’s the deployment of rapid reaction forces in Eastern Europe or strengthening the capacity of mobilization and relocation of forces on the entire European continent.  Member states will also try to minimize the anxiety of the Baltic States by guaranteeing detachment of military equipment and rapid reaction forces in Eastern Europe.

After the recent terrorist attacks in France, Belgium and Turkey a priority will have to be the discussion on strengthening the cooperation between the member’s states in combating terrorism and to secure EU-NATO’s borders.

The recent incidents in the Baltic and Black Sea between NATO and Russian forces will be a topic discussed in the summit. Recent incident of a Russian jets making a dangerous maneuvers on the USS Donald Cook will be a reason to require from NATO members for a better balanced actions to the similar challenges that may occur in the future.

The NATO Warsaw Summit will build upon the agreements reached previously as well as determine the future course of development of the alliance as concerned with its adaptation to new security realities. We cannot expect the summit to exhaustively address all the current challenges , yet the discussions and agreements reached will certainly have a great impact on the regional and international security architecture in the short and long runs.

Image source: Wikimedia

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the ERA Institute.

This article is produced by the Eurasian Research and Analysis Institute, Inc. (ERA Institute), a public, 501(c)(3) nonprofit institution devoted to studying Eurasian affairs. All views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).

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