NATO nations will convene in two weeks, July 11 and 12, at the organisation’s headquarters in Brussels to discuss the way forward for the transatlantic defence apparatus, as the EU moves forward on plans to bolster and form its own defence structures and as the US continues to demand all NATO members meet the two percent defence spending goal (as a share of GDP).
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg outlined the five main issue areas to be discussed at the summit in a speech before the NATO Parliamentary Assembly on May 28. Following on the discourse from NATO’s 2016 Warsaw Summit, the group will focus on reinforcing the alliance’s presence in Eastern Europe as part of its deterrence strategy against Russian aggression. According to Stoltenberg, leaders will discuss a readiness initiative to ensure NATO is prepared to respond quickly and efficiently to Russian aggression. He added that the alliance has “to combine that strong and firm message with an openness for dialogue, partially because we need to continue to strive for a better relationship with Russia.”
In 2017, NATO deployed an enhanced Forward Presence in the Baltics and Poland and a tailored Forward Presence in the Black Sea region, aimed at deterring Russian aggression and improving collective defence. The US leads the NATO enhanced Forward Presence battle group in Poland and is considering a permanent deployment of troops in the country. On June 3, around 18,000 mostly NATO country troops began annual US-led military exercises in Poland and the Baltics, called Saber Strike, aimed at readiness on the eastern flank.
Also on the Brussels Summit agenda is discussing how best to project stability, largely in the realm of combating terrorism. “Ridding all of our countries of the threat of terrorism starts with our joint missions in Afghanistan, what we’re doing in counterterrorism in NATO, and we’ll certainly be continuing to help with the D-ISIS coalition in Iraq to try to help stabilize Iraq after their elections,” said the US Permanent Representative to NATO, Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchinson, in a panel discussion in Washington in late May.
Stoltenberg seconded that in his speech last month, emphasising the importance of training and advising local forces. In February, Stoltenberg announced that NATO agreed to organise a formal military training mission in Iraq, supporting the broader coalition efforts to defeat ISIS.
In Afghanistan, 39 NATO allies and partner nations contribute nearly 16,000 troops to NATO’s Resolute Support Mission that trains, advises, and assists the Afghan military.
As the EU increases its role in security and defence, through initiatives like PESCO, the July summit will also focus on making “sure that efforts of the EU do not compete or duplicate, but that they complement NATO efforts,” said Stoltenberg.
There has historically been much debate over how involved the EU should be in security and defence matters, with the UK being opposed to increased involvement. But with Brexit on the horizon, the EU has managed to move closer to a sort of defence and security union.
Modernisation and adaptation of NATO’s command structure are also on the agenda. “We will see a new NATO command structure with a new joint force command for the Atlantic, a new logistics command, and a cyber operations center,” said Ambassador Sarah Macintosh, Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to NATO, during the panel discussion with Ambassador Hutchinson. Stoltenberg said he expects leaders at the July summit to all agree to establishing those two new commands: the one in the Atlantic – in Norfolk, Virginia – and the logistics command, which will be located in Germany.
Finally, defence spending will top off the agenda, like at previous NATO summits. US President Donald Trump has, before and since assuming office, been demanding all NATO allies meet the two percent spending target. On May 17, in a meeting with Stoltenberg at the White House, Trump reiterated this point, saying NATO members who do not meet this target will be “dealt with.” Stoltenberg has affirmed the alliance is moving in the right direction.
In 2017, there was a more than 4.8 percent increase in defence spending amongst NATO allies, amounting to nearly 12 billion euros. Eight NATO allies are expected to reach the two percent benchmark by the end of this year. Greece already meets that target; at 2.32 percent, it was second only to the US in its amount of defence spending per GDP in 2017. France is near the two percent target, coming in at 1.8 percent in 2017. Portugal, Italy, and Spain and farther behind – at 1.32 percent, 1.13 percent, and 0.92 percent, respectively. Cyprus and Malta are the two Southern EU nations who are not NATO members.
Overall, the July summit in Brussels will aim to continue strengthening the alliance, in coordination with its eastern and southern allies, to create a more stable world.