The Summit in Wales has been hailed as a historic event by politicians and commentators alike. Russian aggression against Ukraine and the hovering threat of radical Islamism have raised the stakes, making this meeting destined to be anything but ordinary. However its real significance will be judged by the level of effective implementation of the decisions made by the Alliance, as well as the effects they will have on strengthening transatlantic security. It is clear that NATO’s assessment of its security environment has changed dramatically within the two years since the Chicago Summit. War in the middle of Europe, waged by Russia – a country which was viewed with concern but still treated as a strategic partner – has severely damaged faith in the inviolability of European security. The audacity of Russian actions, challenging the world order as we knew it, proved to be an awakening moment for realizing that the neglect of security in the national policies of the member states could not be sustained any longer. Consequently, the need for increased investment in the shared capabilities of NATO has been clearly identified at the Summit.
Comparing the security threat assessments of Wales and Chicago Summits, one is left wondering how such a dramatic change of security environment could have happened in such a short period of time. Did the Alliance miss early warning signs of emerging security threats, or perhaps chose to stay in denial and overlook them? Those are tough questions to tackle. Closer analysis of previous decisions made with respect to Ukraine and the open door policy of NATO will show that these issues were not approached as they should have been, due to their perceived political sensitivity.
For the partner countries in Eastern Europe, the Summit has sent unclear signals. The fact that NATO is determined to adapt to the changed security environment in order to remain a strong, robust, and responsive alliance is encouraging. However, in the current circumstances, NATO should evolve as a proactive player with a strategic foresight capable of shaping rather than merely responding to the changes in its security environment. This would be much more reassuring to its partners. Lack of readiness to assist Ukraine in a meaningful way, as well as maintaining constructive ambiguity about when and how the decision on Georgia’s membership could be settled, is nothing less than accepting limitations imposed by an outside actor that has turned European security architecture upside down.
For Georgia as an aspirant country, the Summit delivered mixed results. It reaffirmed the decision taken in Bucharest in 2008 (and confirmed by all subsequent summits) on NATO membership. However, it is still unclear whether Georgia will get the Membership Action Plan (MAP) anytime soon, or is it already in the process of moving closer to membership without the need of MAP. The Summit declaration notes that Georgia’s relationship with the Alliance contains all the tools necessary to continue moving Georgia forward towards eventual membership, but it fails short of recognizing whether these could be sufficient for reaching the final destination. Constructive ambiguity on NATO delivering on the pledge of the Bucharest Summit is even more evident when compared to the decisions made with regard to Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina. There, more explicit language about the process leading to their eventual membership was agreed. In fact, judging from the results of the summit, it can be easily concluded that the open door policy itself has not been viewed as an integral part of the overall strategy of adapting NATO to the changed global security environment. It is indicative that in the long list of issues dealt with in the Summit declaration, the open door policy has fallen close to the bottom.
On a positive note, Georgia’s significant progress in getting closer to NATO has been duly acknowledged. The biggest significance should be attached to increasing NATO’s footprint on the ground and its assistance in improving Georgia’s defense capabilities, especially the decisions to open a training center in Georgia and to broaden its role as a host nation for NATO military exercises. Decisions made at the Summit open up new opportunities for closer cooperation with NATO in the defense sector and for creating a platform for enlarged bilateral cooperation with the member states. The pace of implementation of the Newport summit’s conclusions will be of key importance. The upgrade of Georgia’s defense capabilities should be seen as a short term imperative rather than a long term strategic goal, if the momentum for building proper deterrence capabilities for Georgia is not to be wasted. US leadership will be key in pushing through with an efficient implementation process. A recent visit of the U.S. Secretary of Defense to Tbilisi, right after the Wales Summit, is a positive signal in this respect.
In conclusion, the main impression for Georgia from the Wales Summit is that while the Alliance seems not to be ready for the decisive steps on membership issue, we have seen progress in the framework of the process leading to that endpoint. The intensity and scope of cooperation with NATO and its member states will now be decisive in determining whether or not Georgia will be given a chance to ultimately become a part of the Euro-Atlantic security architecture.
The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network or any of its members. The ELN’s aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address the pressing foreign, defence, and security challenges of our time.