NATO summit tackles ‘arc of insecurity and instability’

Ian Wishart, Helene Fouquet and Isobel Finkel

NATO leaders pledged to bolster Europe’s defenses in the face of what they called an “arc of insecurity and instability” from Moscow to North Africa.

Heads of the alliance’s 28 countries meeting in Warsaw asserted their determination to remain united in tackling challenges from an aggressive Russia under President Vladimir Putin and Islamic State terrorism. With President Barack Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron soon to be out of office and elections next year in France and Germany, the world’s uncertain future was a dominant theme of the two-day summit.

“In the nearly 70 years of NATO, perhaps never have we faced such a range of challenges all at once: Security, humanitarian, political,” Obama told reporters on Saturday at the summit’s close. “In this challenging moment I want to take this opportunity to state clearly what will never change: The unwavering commitment of the United States to the security and defense of Europe.”

The outcome of the meeting, billed by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg as a landmark summit, encapsulated leaders’ concerns that they’re under attack on more than one front: They fleshed out a plan to deploy troops in eastern Europe to counter Russia, agreed to step up work to thwart people-smugglers in the Mediterranean and decided to increase training of Iraqis to take on Islamic State.

Adding to a sense of crisis, they were forced away from the agenda to confront Britain’s exit from the EU, EU-Turkey relations and violence in the U.S. that left five Dallas police officers dead. In Moscow, Russia’s government said it expelled two Americans it claims were CIA agents in a tit-for-tat exchange.

NATO faces a range of security threats “both from the east and from the south; from state and non-state actors; from military forces; and from terrorist, cyber or hybrid attacks,” leaders said in their declaration. “Russia’s aggressive actions, including provocative military activities” are a source of instability, they said, while “security is also deeply affected” by events in the Middle East and North Africa.

Four battalions of as many as 1,000 soldiers each will be stationed in Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania on a rotational basis from next year. The U.S. will lead troops in Poland, the U.K. in Estonia, Canada in Latvia and Germany in Lithuania.

“What we see are more unpredictabilities, more uncertainties and we see a more aggressive Russia,” Stoltenberg said. “In an unpredictable world, with challenges from the south and the east, NATO remains an essential source of stability.”

In an effort to head off accusations of warmongering, Stoltenberg and the national leaders underlined that all the steps they were taking were defensive and that NATO wants a “constructive relationship” with Russia.

Russia expressed dismay at the summit’s decisions, with Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov signaling that Russia didn’t share NATO’s view that its measures were defensive only.

His remarks were echoed on Saturday by former Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who said the decisions showed NATO was “preparing a real war,” according to the Interfax news agency.

Aside from dealing with the Russian threat, NATO agreed to increase training of Iraqi officials, use AWACS surveillance aircraft to support the global coalition fighting Islamic State and begin supporting Tunisian special forces. Others measures included launching a maritime security operation in the Mediterranean to counter people trafficking and terrorism, reinforcing missile defense, strengthening cyber warfare defense and an agreement to continue funding for Afghan forces until 2020.

With populism on the rise in the U.S. and Europe, it was left to French President Francois Hollande to reflect on what the future might bring. Hollande, who faces French elections next spring, said the U.S. vote shouldn’t put at risk the transatlantic relationship that provides “peace and security.”

He urged Americans “to make the right choice when the moment comes.”