NATO’s Brussels Summit 2018 was held July 11-12, 2018 and the event generated a bunch of news stories. Headlining the event were the antics of President Trump. However, a number of important issues were discussed and proclamations issued that have importance in the greater picture of European defense. The paragraphs below provide news, conference details, analysis, and commentary on the Brussels Summit 2018.
Brussels Summit 2018
Trump and NATO. Trump supporters say that the president has ‘put NATO on notice’, reinvigorated the organization, provided some ‘tough love’, and enlivened the discussion. Detractors worry that his ranting and threatening demeanor is damaging the historic and much-needed alliance in the face of Russian aggression, worldwide terrorism, and hybrid warfare threats. His insults toward other NATO nations, calls for 4% of GNP spending for defense (unrealistic), citing of inaccurate figures and facts did little to put the alliance at ease during the Brussels Summit 2018. Trump did end up making public statements of support for NATO.
Trump certainly was disruptive – he forced an emergency meeting on defense spending which caused the cancellation of a session on Afghanistan and cut short meetings on Ukraine and Georgia (Foreign Policy, July 12, 2018).
It is not just the confrontational style of the President that has the alliance in disarray; some of the policy decisions by the U.S. are troubling from Europe’s perspective. Divisive issues such as the JCPOA deal with Iran, how to confront Russia, refugees and migrants, gas imports from Russia, and more are eroding the unity of the alliance.
Editorial note: The real threat to NATO comes from Russia – a nation that very actively tries to divide and discredit the European-based defense organization. NATO will likely survive just fine with or without the reality TV approach by President Trump.
Direction of NATO. Many are concerned about the direction of NATO. Questions arise on whether the organization is doing enough in the Arctic and Black Sea, whether it can contribute to greater security for the Baltic States and Eastern Europe, if it is doing enough about migration from MENA, and the expansion of terrorist groups and movements. Some analysts hoped that the Brussels Summit 2018 event would clarify these concerns and the way forward for NATO.
Differing Views on Security. The member states of NATO have varying perspectives on what is the foremost security priority for the regional military organization. “Flank states” that are nearest Russia – Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia – are concerned with Russian aggression (of all types – cyber, hybrid warfare, and possible invasion). Germany, Russia, Italy, France, and others have a focus looking south – instability in Africa and the Middle East causing massive migration to Europe. Then there is Turkey – with its shifting alignment towards Russia and meddling in Iraq and Syria. The United States has a more global perspective – with a focus on the Middle East, Afghanistan, Asia, and terrorism. The NATO Summit saw the member countries struggling with the fundamental questions of what its shared threats and priorities are. Read “NATO’s Binary Moment”, by Andrew A. Michta, The American Interest, July 10, 2018.
Brussel Summit 2018 Accomplishments
So What Got Done? Most observers – and participants – are reporting that the NATO Summit was a success (you have to put the political bias of the left and right aside to come to this conclusion). Some important decisions (likely made behind closed doors prior to the summit) were made on counterterrorism, command structure reorganization, increasing defense spending, Afghanistan, and troop commitments. These type of NATO events are usually fully scripted in advance. Although sometimes the planned flow of events and meetings are disrupted. In fact the 23-page NATO declaration signed by all participant nations (the U.S. included) at the conference had been complete five days before the summit began. (Military Times, July 13, 2018).
The summit was an occasion to introduce new concepts and initiatives – including a new cyber operations centre, counter-hybrid support teams, new training mission in Iraq, more support for Jordan and Tunisia, a new Baltic HQ command, and a new organization in Norfolk, Virginia, and extending financing for Afghanistan through 2024.
SECDEF Mattis held a number of sideline meetings with his counterparts and followed up the summit with troops to various European countries to conduct follow-on discussions. He stated that the US is 100 percent committed to NATO; allaying concerns that our European partners might be having about the U.S. staying the course with the alliance. (Military.com, July 12, 2018).
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg held a press conference (transcript and video) at the end of the Brussels Summit 2018 where he outlined the major decisions made to strengthen NATO’s deterrence and defence, step up the fight against terrorism, and to ensure fair burden-sharing among all allies. He made pains to emphasize that European nations were upping their defense expenditures while stressing NATO’s support of the U.S. in Afghanistan (the only time Article 5 has been invoked). (NATO, July 12, 2018).
“Burden Sharing”. Calls by Trump for European nations to increase spending (% of each country’s GNP) and modernize equipment are necessary; the Europeans have taken advantage of the ‘peace dividend’ for too many years and their military forces have declined in capability. But just increasing the spending is not the entire answer. What is needed are “. . . changes in strategy, force planning, and spending necessary to create the forces NATO actually needs to deter and defend.” Anthony H. Cordesman explains in an article posted by the Center for Strategic & International Studies (July 12, 2018).
Facts and Figures. Some of the remarks by President Trump about expenditures on defense by European countries were somewhat misleading and are being called inaccurate by many observers. One source of information about defense expenditures is available via NATO publications. See Information on Defence Expenditures (July 10, 2018) and Defence Expenditure of NATO Countries (2011-2018) (July 10, 2018).
German Military Readiness. David French, a senior writer for National Review and veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, says that the German military is a pale shadow of its recent West German past. He says that it is time for Germany to step up to the plate. “If You Care About NATO You Should Care About German Military Readiness”, National Review, July 11, 2018.
Countering Russia on the Seas. Russia’s ability to strike forward-deployed NATO navies and to restrict NATO ships access to critical waterways is a significant factor in calculating the defensive posture for Europe. Russia is slowly building up its layered defense (A2AD) in the Baltic and Black Sea regions.
Mathieu Bouleue, a research fellow on Russia and Eurasia with the Chatham House believes that the NATO alliance needs to recognize the threat Russia poses in the Arctic and the Black Sea. (Chatham House, July 2, 2018).
Stephen Blank, a student of the Soviet Union and then of the Russian military, provides his perspective on how NATO needs to pay more attention to Russia’s activities in the Black Sea region. Read “NATO, Russia, and the Black Sea”, Second Line of Defense, July 11, 2018.
NATO’s 30-30-30-30 Plan. The nations of NATO have agreed to a plan to have more forces ready immediately in the case of a Russian attack on a NATO member. The plan would require NATO to have 30 land battalions, 30 air fighter squadrons, and 30 ships all ready to deploy within 30 days of being put on alert. Read more in “NATO Agrees US Plan to Ready More Forces To Deter Russia”, Forces Network, July 12, 2018.
Videos on Brussels Summit 2018
NATO Summit 2018 Wraps Up in Brussels, NATO, July 13, 2018.
NATO Sec General Press Conference, NATO, 2018.
Photo: NATO graphic.