Thursday, July 7, 2016

Warsaw Summit

NATO's Warsaw Summit is fixing to kick off!

The North Atlantic alliance has over the years experienced identity crises of two different kinds. The first stems from worry that the organization has outlived its usefulness. This form of self-doubt appeared most recently at NATO’s Lisbon summit in 2010, and again at its Chicago meeting in 2012. With memories of the Cold War receding and the “reset” with Russia still going strong (then-President Dmitri Medvedev actually came to Lisbon), the 2010 communiqué found Europe stable, successful, and at peace. Who needed an alliance?

A second kind of identity crisis is all about efficacy. It takes hold when threats are real, but NATO seems too diverse, too divided, and too disorganized to achieve its goals. Anxiety of this type was in evidence at the Wales summit of 2014. Russia had seized Crimea and sent military personnel to support separatism in eastern Ukraine, so no one doubted that NATO was necessary. The only question was whether it could fashion an effective response.

 At the upcoming Warsaw summit, which begins on July 8, some will say the alliance has put identity crises behind it. The meeting is a chance for NATO leaders to review the pledges made at Wales and to endorse new plans for implementing them. Given the alliance’s record of the last two years, members have every reason to pat themselves on the back.

Yet amid justified self-congratulation, doubts and divisions will surface at this summit. Some may even detect a third type of identity crisis, one that makes NATO seem, more than anything else, irrelevant to today’s big concerns.  The alliance, after all, has been on the sidelines of efforts to cope with refugees or to roll back the self-proclaimed Islamic State. NATO’s mission in Afghanistan remains troubled (and to many, futile). Britain’s vote to leave the European Union—certain to be the main topic of corridor conversation in Warsaw—will only complicate Western decision-making.

Concerns about relevance will be unavoidable when the leaders of the alliance gather, but these should not derail summit participants from highly relevant problems that they need to, and can, address.  NATO is not fully united in responding to the core European security concerns that brought it into being almost seventy years ago. The alliance needs better solutions to the problem of burden-sharing, and a more sustainable strategy for managing tensions with Russia.

 Whenever NATO rearms, it has to expect pushback from Moscow. Russia can test the alliance’s commitment to firmer new policies in various ways—through military countermeasures of its own, loud warnings that NATO is pushing Europe toward war, and offers and inducements that try to peel off the more nervous (or cynical) Western governments.