Seth Thomas says the NATO summit in Newport is set to be a milestone in the organisation’s history
The Newport summit takes place against a backdrop of Russian tanks moving into the Ukraine, renewed crises in the Middle East, while NATO faces spending cuts in member states and an urgent need to restructure.
Thirty years ago NATO pursued a clear aim: to maintain a credible deterrence in nuclear and conventional forces in orderto ensure that there would be no Soviet attack upon its member states. In other words, it was a collective defence pact. The magnitude of losses in any such war betweenNATO and the Warsaw Pact was huge, a threat to the future ofthe human race. Yet the probability of such a war was – arguably – less likely. Today we face a reversal of those positions: smaller-scale security problems or conflictinvolving NATO members or neighbours, which occur more frequently.
NATO has been through a difficult quarter-century since the fall of the Berlin Wall heralded a collapse of the old certainties. With successful American leadership during the1990-91 G
Yet underlying regional political and security instabilities,previously held in check by the then-superpowers, have become more apparent since the mid-1990s. Russia’s transition to a stable democracy was left to wither on the vine, and increased global linkages
So while sometimes uncertain, NATO has not been moribund. It has expanded its operational remit from collective defence to supporting wider international stability. For example, itwas in action in the Balkans in the decade following 1992; provided logistical support for African Union peace-keeping operations in Darfur 2005-07; counter-piracy forces off the Horn of Africa from 2008; and carried out air and naval operations in Libya on behalf of the UN in 2011. It iscurrently in the midst of withdrawing operational forces from Afghanistan.
At the last NATO summit – Chicago in 2012 – at the top of the agenda was the Afghan disengagement and the response tounrest in North Africa. Then, military interventionismappeared to be going out of fashion. Two years on,Afghanistan and ensuring adequate local security forces will remain on the agenda, particularly so in the light of Iraq’s issues after the departure of American combat forces.
However in Newport, a great deal of the summit’s focus will be on the immediate threats to world stability – many of whichare interlinked problems.
Russia’s large-scale support for separatists in East Ukraine following the accession of the Crimea – is an obvious issue to confront. The response to Ukraine – (itself earning a paragraph in the 2012 Chicago Declaration) – is linked to the Middle East. Syria was a client-state of the Soviet Union and still comes under the Russian sphere of influence which means the US treads with care. So while the West has been hamstrung in its attempts to develop a clear strategy for Syria, the continued civil war there has proved an opportunity for Isis to straddle the Syrian and Iraq border territories. Post-World War One boundaries set up by non-believers from vanished empires are meaningless to this self-proclaimedreligious state which aims to dominate the Middle East.
Adding to the complexity is that the pieces of the puzzle keep moving. Only months ago, Iran was – in public at least – apariah state with Israel threatening to bomb Iran’s developing nuclear facilities. Now Israel is once more engaged in the Hamas-dominated Gaza territory while the main Western powers engage in dialogue with the Iranian regime to stabilisethe Kurdish part of Iraq.
All of the UN Security Council permanent members – the US, Russia, the UK, France and China – have political ties and significant economic interests in the region. One of NATO’s members – Turkey – borders the region and faces a direct security threat.
And this is before factoring in other significant challenges with a security dimension: weapons proliferation; climate change; water supply; resource & energy security; cyber threats; migration & changing demographics; religious fundamentalism; piracy; and of course the potential for pandemics.
It calls for Kissinger-level strategy involving co-
However, apart from these immediate issues, a second item on the official agenda, longer-term i
Chatham House – a leading international affairs think-tankbased in London – has stated that any NATO restructure needs to make the organisation more flexible and readier to respond to changing threats. In a July report, it suggested that NATO needed to improve crisis management capabilities, intelligence-gathering, and the overall resilience of member states to threats. It also recommended that more public diplomacy was required to rebuild domestic understanding for the alliance. In particular, defence spending will either need to increase or existing budgets will need to be spent more intelligently. Only four of the organisation’s twenty-eight members actually spend more than 2% of GDP on defence – the US, UK, Greece and Estonia. This is a hugely problematic political issue for governments which are engaged in cutting public spending.
The discussions and preparation for any international summitis immense, and the meetings themselves usually operate on two levels. Firstly, there is the official agenda – which focuses on the summit’s stated aims; and secondly there is always an unofficial series of discussion, which take advantage of leaders in physical proximity to each other,providing the ability to hold informal bi-lateral conversations. The NATO summit is likely to run along these lines.
During the summit, both at the formal sessions and behind the closed doors in Celtic Manor’s hotel rooms, the willingness ofthe key NATO members – the US, UK, France and Germany – to lead from the front will be critical to the success of the gathering.
Today, the volume of security issues faced by the West is considerable. Issues which have been allowed to fester orhave been studiously ignored in public debate are now sadlyclear. The need for regional and global stability is a challenge to which the summit must now rise. The NATO summit in Newport – Wales, could be one of the defining moments for NATO and Western security co-operation. The eyes of the world will be upon Newport.