NATO’s Brussels summit concluded on July 12 after two days of heated debates on the Alliance’s core challenges and ways to confront them.
Of the summit’s 79-point declaration, I could single out three key takeaways. The first was the widely-held expectation that US President Donald J. Trump would be vocal about pushing for an increase in the burden sharing, which he very demonstratively followed through on.
NATO members reaffirmed their commitment to the Defence Investment Pledge that was agreed at the 2014 Wales Summit. This commitment states that member countries should spend 2% of their GDP on defence. The agreement includes expenditures on individual contributions, major equipment, as well as research and development. The target was initially to achieve cohesion, solidarity, and credibility to fulfil the commitments of Article 5, the Alliance’s bedrock clause of collective defence.
Despite a number of politicians and civil society members not being overly enthusiastic about Trump’s hawkish rhetoric toward the US’ allies in Europe, the mercurial American president did eventually call the meeting with his 28 counterparts a “tremendous success” – a term his often uses for when he heaps praise on a particular event of individual.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, acting as an honest broker among the allied nations, gave Trump credit for his leadership in championing the issue of increasing the budget commitments for common security, as well as defence. Trump, however, also complained about Germany’s low defence spending and its upcoming Nord Stream-2 project, a direct undersea pipeline from Russia to Germany, which will further increase Berlin’s dependency on Russian gas.
In a caustic dressing down of a visibly surprised Stoltenberg and others over a pre-Summit breakfast, Trump said he regarded Nord Strem-2 as unfair so long as the United States is on the ground to defend Germany and the rest of Europe. He chided Berlin for carrying on with doing business as usual when it comes to dealing with Moscow.
While his no-nonsense and boorish delivery was not widely perceived as the most viable diplomatic option for Trump, one cannot deny the grave concerns attached to the Nord Stream-2 project in terms of increasing Russia’s energy presence on the European Union.
The second takeaway from the Summit was NATO’s clear message that it remains the central guarantor of Euro-Atlantic security. Given the deteriorating security situation on the Continent after Russia’s illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula, and the ongoing destabilisation of eastern Ukraine, the Alliance members agreed to launch a NATO Readiness Initiative (NRI).
The NRI envisages placing high-quality, combat-ready forces that will include 30 warships, 30 mechanised battalions, and 30 fleets of fighter jets on constant high alert, which can be put into action in 30 days or less. NATO also maintained its multi-domain approach to cyber and maritime threats that will further solidify NATO’s deterrence and defense posture.
Most importantly, the NATO members reiterated their backing to providing additional security to the Black Sea region. This approach was originally adopted during the 2016 Warsaw Summit, which pushed for a more robust NATO maritime presence in the Black Sea given Russia’s hostile actions in the region. Along the lines of delivering, the allies agreed to extend Resolute Support Mission, assistance by extending their financial sustainment in Afghanistan through 2024.
In addition to extending their financial commitments for Afghanistan through 2024, NATO reaffirmed its Open Door Policy by inviting Macedonia/FYROM to start accession talks after the country recently agreed to resolve its 27-year-old Name Dispute with neighbouring Greece.
This moment was particularly important for Georgia as it has been paying high price for its Western orientation. Russia continues to occupy Georgia’s Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region, in an attempt to prevent NATO’s enlargement on the eastern shores of the Black Sea.
At the 10 year anniversary of the 2008 NATO Bucharest Summit, where Georgia was promised eventual membership, successive governments in Tbilisi have delivered significant reforms to prepare for their eventual accession.
Stoltenberg has hinted on multiple occasions that a way would be found to appreciate Georgia’s reforms and its continued contribution to the Alliance. However, notably, the Summit did not offer Georgia much in terms of providing further incentives or initiatives, including upgrading the practical cooperation tools. While the Alliance reaffirmed their commitment to the 2008 decision, they also emphasised that the granting of a Membership Action Plan (MAP) to Georgian will be an integral part for its eventual accession.
NATO officials made it clear that Georgia has all practical tools to join the alliance. The Annual National Program and the Substantial NATO–Georgia Package have been further amplified by the NATO–Georgia Commission. These developments have made the Membership Action Plan less relevant than a decade ago. Thus, one of the tangible results for Georgia in Brussels could have been a removal of the MAP from the accession agenda.
Preparing for the next summit, this can be part of the NATO-Georgia discussion and a short-term goal for Georgia’s diplomacy.
The July 11-12 Summit provided one more opportunity for the NATO allies to enhance their defence and deterrence capabilities, as well as to reaffirm their commitments to the core values of the Alliance. Regardless of the uncomfortable interactions with Trump, the Summit delivered on its general goals, which should be seen as a path towards further achievement. One thing is clear – no matter what sort of disagreements that may exist between the members, NATO remains as relevant as ever and internal debates will only help improve the Alliance’s ability to protect the world’s free and democratic nations.
With this in mind, it’s now up to Trump to mobilise all of the resources and strength of one of the most successful military alliances in history when he holds a summit with Russia’s Vladimir Putin in Helsinki this week.