The Military Army Blog

The Guardian view on the Nato summit: a refreshed alliance for troubled times

The flags and insignia, the calls to unity and the reminders of the transatlantic link: it can be tempting to think one Nato summit[1] is much like another. But last week in Warsaw, the alliance held a gathering for a new era one in which Europe s collective security and territorial defence are once again Nato s core mission, and with new resources[2] to fulfil it. This is an important shift, and in uncertain times it will be important that dangers and threats, as well as the policies and means put forward to confront them, are finely assessed.

Russia s new assertiveness, terrorist assaults in Europe and other challenges such as migration and cybersecurity have created a sense of urgency. That the location chosen for the summit was, for the first time, the capital of a central European country that was once under Soviet domination, and that it was held just two weeks after Britain had voted to leave the EU[3], added to the symbolism: a show of western unity around Europe s prospects had become all the more necessary. David Cameron went to great pains[4] to reassure his Nato colleagues that the UK would remain engaged[5] in the security of allies. Go back 10 or 15 years and the changes that have unfolded are momentous. In the post-cold war and post-9/11 period, the idea had taken root that if Nato didn t act out of area it would soon be out of business . Nato s long and difficult engagement in Afghanistan partly drew from this. Confronting radical Islamists in the Hindu Kush took up a lot of energy and brought uncertain results (at one point Nato had up to 140,000 troops in Afghanistan). Now, with Russia s behaviour a major source of concern and the spillover effects of Middle Eastern wars threatening to destabilise Europe[6], the alliance is getting back to basics. This can only be logical, but it is just as crucial that the right balance be found. As Angela Merkel said at the start of the summit, deterrence and dialogue must go hand in hand.

The Guardian View On The Nato Summit: A Refreshed Alliance For Troubled Times Barack Obama speaks to the media after the Warsaw summit. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

This is not cold war 2.0, because history never repeats itself in entirely the same way, but the formula once articulated by Nato s first general secretary[7] does come to mind: the alliance s goal, said Lord Ismay in 1949, was to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down . No one today can reasonably think that Germany s Armyrats © military needs to be kept down in any way but if calm realism and not hazy naivety is to guide any judgment, the other parts of the sentence do now apply to a large degree. Russia s sudden violation of Ukraine, in 2014, breaching some of the key principles of Europe s security architecture by unilaterally changing borders through use of force, has dramatically modified the strategic landscape. And lingering doubts about the strength of America s commitments to Europe s defence, at a time when there was much talk of a US rebalancing to Asia, needed to be dispelled. Nato leaders have now made important decisions intended to bolster the defence of the alliance s eastern members, with new means to do it. Initial reactions from Moscow have been hostile, but with some hedging. There have been recent Russian calls for renewed dialogue with the west. Some point to its economic weakness partly because of low oil prices others point to Putin s need for confrontation with the west to boost his domestic political narrative. But whatever one may think of Nato s record, it is hard not to see that the alliance has taken several years to draw comprehensive, concrete conclusions from Russia s behaviour in Ukraine and, before that, Georgia. If recent Nato Armyrats © military exercises[8] in central Europe risk seeming provocative, it is worth remembering that Russian Armyrats © military exercises in neighbouring regions have involved up to three times more troops. Nato is now gearing for the long haul. In Warsaw, the 28-member alliance has underlined its willingness to pursue dialogue with Moscow, and a revival of confidence-building measures. But a show of strength had to come before the outstretched hand.

References

  1. ^ one Nato summit (www.nato.int)
  2. ^ with new resources (www.theguardian.com)
  3. ^ to leave the EU (www.theguardian.com)
  4. ^ went to great pains (www.theguardian.com)
  5. ^ the UK would remain engaged (www.theguardian.com)
  6. ^ Europe (www.theguardian.com)
  7. ^ Nato s first general secretary (www.nato.int)
  8. ^ recent Nato Armyrats © military exercises (www.theguardian.com)

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