Ready, steady, go!
Amid the heated debates about NATO’s collective defense capabilities’ relevance in new, evolving security challenges in its eastern and southern flanks, NATO Foreign Ministers’ Summit met in Antalya, Turkey between 13-14 May 2015.
The two-day gathering was the first time since April 2011 that ministers met outside Brusels’ NATO headquarters. If foreign ministers’ previous unwillingness to travel was a sign of NATO’s introverted behavior, their meeting in Antalya, only 850 km away from the Syrian border, indicated changing perceptions.
The meeting mainly focused on plotting a new strategy for growing instability in NATO’s flanks as a result of threats emanating from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Iraq and Syria and Russia’s recent menacing stance in Ukraine and towards Eastern Europe.
One primary problem is that NATO’s borders have expanded and its theater definitions have become rather hazy. During the Cold War, there was central Europe with northern and southern flanks, which were all very defined and confined engagement theaters. Today, the southern flank extends from Gibraltar to Afghanistan, while the northern flank extends from the Barents Sea to the Caspian Sea, encapsulating vast areas with differing threat algorithms.
Another problem is how to grasp and respond to these newly emerging so-called hybrid threats. During the Cold War, threats came from states and their alliances. In the post-Cold War environment, non-state actors, such as al-Qaeda, are the threats but NATO has been somewhat able to evolve to counter such threats.
Today, the challenge we face is a combination of state-non-state actors using conventional and non-conventional threatening means towards the NATO area. This necessitates a re-think and re-adoption.
The meeting in Turkey, sandwiched between northern and southern flanks, had symbolic meaning, displaying the spirit of cooperation and solidarity among members and partners. Thus, the meeting was crucial in showing NATO’s support to its southern and eastern members, as well as candidate countries and partners, that NATO takes their situation seriously. Yet, it failed to even bring its Istanbul Cooperation Initiative partners to the meeting.
Furthermore, statements by NATO foreign ministers at the meeting’s end confirmed that NATO’s conventional defense system is inadequate to meet new challenges such as cyber-attacks, violent extremism, humanitarian crises and other hybrid threats. To counter these, they decided to increase cooperation and intelligence sharing. However, they also had to acknowledge most member states’ shortcomings to meet their 2014 Wales Summit to spend 2 percent of their national budgets on defense.
Another topic discussed was last year’s decision to create the Spearhead Force of 5,000 men within the NATO Response Force, who will respond to crises within 48 hours. Turkey offered to lead the force in 2021, which will become operational in early 2017, with six other contributing states.
The crisis in Ukraine, NATO’s presence in Afghanistan, ISIL threat to NATO territory and illegal migrations were also part of the agenda. However, the most controversial issue was undoubtedly Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu’s call to accept new members at the spring 2016 summit. Raising this issue was a critical response to the first Russian Chinese naval maneuvers practiced in the Mediterranean, where neither of the countries have coasts.
NATO has faced several new challenges since the end of the Cold War, but has so far adapted successfully. Since the outbreak of the Ukrainian crisis and the emergence of ISIL, various alternative strategies have been discussed; it is time to take action now.