Just recently, Western world leaders gathered in Warsaw for the NATO Summit to discuss foreign security issues and new strategies concerning future operations and partnerships. This following abstract exposes the new “Grand Strategy” as a political deterrence-dialogue paradox.
A comment by Daniel Weimert and Kaloyan Halachev
In the formative years of the Alliance, the eminent first NATO Secretary General, Lord Ismay, pointed out the organization’s key purpose is „to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.“ This humorous political musing reflected the major consensus on the defence, peace and security formula in the Northwestern hemisphere for the period following World War II. Deeply reactionary in its nature, the above mentioned conception resonated with the compelling logic of the geopolitical realities after 1945. 71 years after the end of WWII and 26 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, a new set of concerted efforts have been undertaken that aim at achieving peace and stability. These efforts are marked by a curious mixture of some historically established frontlines, new security challenges, a benevolent historical comeback, unexpected (geo)-political shifts and threats as well as epic attempts for the synchronization of asynchronous interests. The NATO Summit in Warsaw 2016 had it all – change and immutability at once. In other words: The present, past and future got together and it was tense.
NATO members do not fail at promoting unity in terms of goals and direction, but fail to unite in action.
The Least Common Denominator
During the two-day summit in the Polish capital, NATO reaffirmed the importance of its strategic partnerships when announcing the danger of cyber and hybrid warfare activities. Montenegro was also welcomed as the newest member to the club – to name only a few topics addressed. But most interesting was NATO’s deterrence and defence strategy mainly tailored to combat ISIS/Daesh as well as to counter Russia’s “destabilising activities in the East.”
Taking on a sterner position, NATO criticised Russia heavily for taking part in the conflict in Syria by supporting the Assad regime with military forces, which posed “risks and challenges for the security of Allies and others”. It was stressed that the security situation in the Middle East and North Africa has had a significant impact across the world in a way that ISIS/Daesh has gained a greater level of intensity reaching into Allied territory while posing a threat to nations and the international community. However, NATO’s argument regarding the “growing challenges and threats from the south” might rather be a response to the eminent challenges for its strategic framework of security and defence measures taken in the Middle East.
Despite the ongoing tectonic shifts in Europe caused by the refugee crisis, the Brexit referendum and the Trump factor in the USA accompanied with diverging political agendas, NATO members do not fail at promoting unity in terms of goals and direction, but fail to unite in action. As a result, NATO continues to support the Global Coalition against Daesh, while at the same time avoiding membership in that coalition. A contradiction? It depends. In the secret language of multilateral diplomacy, outcomes like these are known as the least common denominator. It might not be very fruitful or even nonsensical, but it does not necessarily indicate dissent among the member states.
NATO members reached a consensus on how to proceed next: deterrence and defence. This strategy however might seem evident in regard to terrorist groups such as Daesh, but might face rather critical response in regard to Russia – former negotiating partner and nuclear power. NATO emphasised long-lasting efforts in building up a partnership with Russia over the past two decades. At the same time, NATO was quite clear and indisputably precise in its official communiqué by stating that Russia’s activities and policies have significantly contributed to the instability and lack of security in territories by breaking the values outlined in the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act. During the summit, NATO strongly condemned Russia’s course in recent foreign and security policies and the continued violation of international law, while defending its own activities by “fulfilling effectively all three core tasks as set out in the Strategic Concept: collective defence, crisis management, and cooperative security”. In doing so, NATO reassures that they are not contradicting with the NATO-Russia Founding Act and the principles of the Readiness Action Plan from Wales 2014. In the following, NATO defined its “new security environment” according to the official Warsaw Summit Communiqué:
“the ongoing illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea, which we [NATO] do not and will not recognize and which we [NATO] call on Russia to reverse; the violation of sovereign borders by force; the deliberate destabilization of eastern Ukraine; large-scale snap exercises contrary to the spirit of the Vienna Document, and provocative military activities near NATO borders, including in the Baltic and Black Sea regions and the Eastern Mediterranean; its irresponsible and aggressive nuclear rhetoric, military concept and underlying posture; and its repeated violations of NATO Allied airspace.”
The Russians out, the Americans in, and the Europeans…in Between
A possible shift in power balance within the European Union has to be taken into consideration. Now that the Brexit is actually happening, the EU as an entity within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization could lose even more of its political weight. Maybe that’s part of the reason why the high representatives of the EU and NATO have reaffirmed once again the relevance of the transatlantic linkages for European security in the “Joint Declaration”. The development of “coherent, complementary and interoperable defence capabilities of EU Member States and NATO Allies” lies at the very heart of the strategic partnership. In other words, EU leaders will face a growing dependence on a variety of partnerships, when it comes to elementary questions of defence and security. As a result, the European Union will remain in the position of an object instead of becoming a subject in the realm of foreign affairs even at a regional level.
NATO on the other hand retains its dominant position of a safeguard on European soil especially regarding deterrence activities. Nevertheless, a trend supporting higher state expenses for security issues is noticeable and it is likely to increase even further in the near future due to the deterrence measures. Following this trend, Germany’s defence minister Ursula von der Leyen clarified in the recently published German White Book that the increasing German international significance on a political stage comes with a greater responsibility in security issues. Mittendrin statt nur dabei! Hence, ”Germans down“ is simply not an option any longer.
The leaders of the West have been vocal about the significance of enforcing the highly anticipated NATO-Russian dialogue. However, vital efforts were limited to the NATO-Russia Council.
Deterrence vs. Dialogue
Now, to what degree can political dialogue evolve in the given circumstances of deterrence and defence? NATO has responded to the changing security environment by striving for deterrence measures. Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States will serve as framework nations for the multinational military presence of a voluntary and rotational basis in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland starting in 2017. But despite the increasing presence in Eastern Europe, NATO wants to remain open to political dialogue with Russia. In response, Sigmar Gabriel and Frank-Walter Steinmeier pointed out, deterrence and sanctions cannot be the only way in forcing politics to change, as they might even foster further aggression and isolation.
After bilateral meetings, Barack Obama stated the importance of creating and maintaining dialogue with Russia to be able to “reduce tensions and the dangers of potential escalation.” Furthermore, Dr. Lucas, German Ambassador to NATO, stressed the importance of dialogue in context of NATO deterrence in a video posted on Twitter and at an event at the ARD Hauptstadtstudio on July 14, where he even labeled NATO’s strategic turning points as characteristics of NATO 3.0.
Clearly, the leaders of the West have been vocal about the significance of enforcing the highly anticipated NATO-Russian dialogue. Up to this point however, vital efforts were limited to the NATO-Russia Council, which took place shortly after the Warsaw summit for the first time since 2014. This is a crucial yet only small step towards the right direction that, for all intents and purposes, needs to be taken even further.
Let’s Talk Politics!
The current security sphere in and around Europe indicates indeed significant challenges. But given their origin and specific nature, we should ask ourselves whether the required solutions really presuppose a stronger NATO involvement. The world leaders of the West have repeatedly stated their openness towards “a periodic, focused and meaningful dialogue with (…) Russia” in order to avoid “misunderstanding, miscalculation, and unintended escalation”. However, putting strong emphasis on deterrence might not be successful in achieving NATO objectives without a similar emphasis on a communal dialogue.
Therefore, future dialogue forums will have to be created to assure information exchange in order to counter misunderstandings and to further trust against the backdrop of deterrence and defence strategies. It’s time for a profound diplomatic dialogue – one that exceeds the NATO-Russia Council and one that involves politicians as well as the public. How about an EU-Russia Council?
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Daniel Weimert studied media and communications at Freie Universität Berlin and the University of California San Diego, where he first got a glimpse of the American perspective on foreign policy. He interned at the U.S. Embassy Berlin and is now studying Strategic Communications in his masters at Universität der Künste Berlin and the Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris III.
Kaloyan Halachev studiert derzeit im Masterstudiengang Sozialwissenschaften an der Humboldt-Universität Berlin. Sein Fokus liegt dabei auf die transatlantische Beziehung und die Integration innerhalb der europäischen Union.