NATO tends to make progress on key policy issues and capability from summit to summit. Major shifts in the orientation of the Alliance can be traced to significant summits like London (1990), Washington (1999), Prague (2002), and Lisbon (2010). During the past two years, NATO has held a summit in Wales (4-5 September 2014) and one in Warsaw (8-9 July 2016). A third mini-summit is planned for Brussels in 2017.
These first two summits taken together again significantly shifted the focus of the Alliance in the face of a series of new and dangerous challenges in the East and South. They shifted NATO’s posture in the East from benign neglect to allied reassurance to some degree of deterrence. The proposed force posture, however, is inadequate to defeat a determined Russian short warning attack. Considerable increases in forward deployed forces (perhaps seven brigades) plus strengthened reinforcements would be necessary for NATO to hold its ground. In the South, Allies recognized the complexity of the threats to Europe and sought to define NATO’s role in dealing with them.
The third summit next year in Brussels could set the stage for further progress on both fronts. Much more still needs to be done. But with these fairly dramatic changes, NATO is in the process of once again restructuring itself so that it will not be “obsolete” in the effort to provide security for the transatlantic allies.
This paper briefly analyzes 20 key issues now facing the Alliance and highlights the progress made in Wales and Warsaw. It also suggests some directions for the Brussels summit and beyond. Table 1 serves as a guide to this discussion. The vertical columns represent the major issues addressed at each summit and the horizontal rows trace progress on that issue from Wales to Warsaw and suggest initiatives for the Brussels summit.