Restoring NATO’s deterrence

Restoring NATO’s deterrence

The heads of state and government of the 28 NATO member countries gathered in Warsaw on July 8-9, along with Montenegro, whose membership is going to be ratified soon, and 26 partner countries and representatives from several international organizations. The Warsaw Summit was a landmark gathering for NATO due to its timing, location and agenda.

The summit took place in a very charged international atmosphere. As the world’s most powerful and extensive military alliance, 67-year-old NATO is today facing an array of security challenges and threats ranging from Russian aggression on its eastern flank to widespread migration and violent extremism on its southern flank. Added to these are the emergence of elusive hybrid threats to global security and possible internal disarray after the Brexit referendum.

The Warsaw Summit was thus poised to reassure both allies and partners of NATO’s deterrence and collective defense capabilities in the face of unpredictable global security challenges. As a result, the final communiqué, with its 139 points, highlighted the alliance’s determination to step up its presence around NATO territory to counter threats emanating from various state and non-state actors.

The location of the summit, where the Warsaw Pact was signed in 1955 under the leadership of the Soviet Union, also had a symbolic meaning in responding to Russia’s recent aggressive behavior on NATO’s eastern flank. The decision to deploy four multinational battalions to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, however small their numbers are, is also a very clear message both to Russia and to the eastern allies that needed reassurances.

NATO, which was originally founded, among others reasons, to deter Russia, has been struggling to boost its deterrence capabilities in the wake of the Russian annexation of Crimea. The increased number of military exercises near Russian borders since the 2014 Wales Summit meant only so much. The decision to deploy NATO forces might finally do the trick and carry the intended message across, both reassuring allies and deterring Russia from further aggression. 

NATO leaders also agreed on several other rather ambitious steps for the future of the alliance, including the extension of its military and financial support for Afghanistan, increasing its assistance to the Iraqi army, expanding its maritime presence in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, and approving usage of AWACS surveillance aircrafts to assist the U.S.-led coalition forces fighting against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), in both Syria and Iraq. Finally, NATO and the EU signed a joint declaration to deepen their strategic partnership, particularly in the fields of hybrid and cyber warfare, as well as, maritime security.

The emphasis on and the recognition of cyberspace as a new operation domain like the air, land and sea was also a rather significant move. While it showed how adaptive the alliance has become in addressing new challenges, more significantly it now encapsulates cyber threats within the terms of Article 5 of the Washington Treaty. Although we do not yet know how precisely NATO would response to a cyber-attack on its members, with this decision, cyberspace has theoretically become part of “NATO territory,” just as its more traditional territories in land, sea, and air.

Though the decisions to strengthen its deterrence capabilities against states do not mean much against non-state actors, the long communiqué and ambitious commitments by member states shows the seriousness of the intention. Should member states succeed in implementing these commitments effectively, they might then provide some real bases for possible future expansion of NATO’s deterrence capabilities against non-state actors as well.