What security minds think about NATO’s past and future

World leaders during a meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit. [Shutterstock]

As NATO leaders gather for what is set to be an ill-tempered working session on Wednesday (4 December), EURACTIV.com asked EU and NATO stakeholders to assess challenges ahead and the future of the Alliance.

The weeks and days leading up to the London meeting have pointed towards a family feud rather than a celebration. NATO find itself at a crossroads, at a moment of the alliance’s biggest internal disagreement since its creation.

NATO is ‘politically in some trouble, but militarily more or less alright,’ an ex-secretary general said on the sidelines and hit the nail on the toe.

Asked how healthy NATO was, he said: “From a military point of view, apart from the perennial budget discussions, NATO is relatively healthy. From a political point of view, it would need some antibiotics, I think.”

For NATO leaders, the working session therefore will be less about looking back at seventy years of existence, but rather about debating where the Western military pact should be heading in the future.

Here’s what major security stakeholders in Europe have to say about the state of play in European security.

Federica Mogherini, EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy: 

“The European Union and NATO are essential partners in security and defence. While NATO remains the pillar of Europe’s collective defence, the European Union has some unique security and defence tools that we can develop and use, also at the service of the Alliance. As Europeans, we have realised that we have to take more responsibility in the field of defence, also as a way of strengthening NATO. We have done more in the past years than in decades before.

In parallel, we have also strengthened EU-NATO cooperation as it has never been done before. The Warsaw and Brussels Joint Declarations and the ensuing common set of 74 concrete actions for implementation have not only reinvigorated our partnership: they have been a genuine game changer. Our relationship is indeed changing and I think this is irreversible. A stronger European Union makes NATO stronger, a strong NATO makes Europe safer.”

Jorge Domecq, Chief Executive of the European Defence Agency:

“All efforts aimed at strengthening European defence – and this includes the work EDA does to support its Member States in improving their defence capabilities through cooperation – are built on the common, undisputed and unshakable understanding that NATO is and remains the cornerstone of Europe’s collective defence.

The shared objective of EU-NATO cooperation is to ensure the security of their members and to enhance the transatlantic bond. Both play thus complementary roles in providing security in Europe.

Complementarity is also what has shaped EDA’s informal but structured working relationship with NATO. By developing a more coherent European defence capability landscape and a more interoperable and efficient full spectrum force package in complementarity with NATO,  we will not only increase the EU’s ability to act autonomously when needed but also reinforce Europe’s contribution to NATO. A stronger EU on defence also makes NATO stronger.”

Camille Grand, NATO Assistant Secretary-General for Defence Investment:

“For 70 years, NATO has continuously and successfully adapted to new security challenges. Today, NATO faces the most unpredictable security situation for many years: with Russia destabilizing large parts of Europe; instability across the Alliance’s Southern flank feeding terrorism; cyber and hybrid threats. Since 2014, we have been engaged in an ambitious transformation, inventing into “NATO 3.0”.

Decisions taken by the Allies since 2014 have put us on good track to achieve these demanding objectives. They are also addressing the critical issue of burden-sharing with an additional 100 billion invested in defence for 2016-2020. In order to preserve a robust deterrence and defence posture, NATO relies on its ability to continue to react, adapt, modernise, to reflect the common interests of the Allies and to work with its partners including the European Union.”

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, former NATO Secretary-General (2009-2014):

“The Transatlantic Alliance still needs NATO. The US’ allies are its greatest global competitive advantage, and Europe cannot reproduce the strength of NATO. In an increasingly dangerous world, we cannot go it alone.

However, keeping the London summit on the rails will not be an easy task. President Trump could fixate on defence spending and disrupt procedures as he did in Brussels last year. President Macron could repeat doubts about the certainty of Article 5, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy about the future of the Alliance; or Erdogan could continue to test NATO’s unity.

“Militarily, NATO is stronger than at any time since the Cold War. Defence spending in Europe has increased year-on-year since 2015. However, NATO is also a political organisation and the creeping doubts of some of its leading states’ Presidents undermine the Alliance. I believe the London summit will need to have some robust discussions, but the end result should be a clear statement that the security relationship overrides all other policy disagreements we may have.“

Nathalie Loiseau MEP (Renew Europe), Chair of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee for Security and Defence (SEDE):

“NATO is 70 years old. It has provided priceless security to both sides of the Atlantic. Time has come to sit together and talk about strategy : what are our common threats in a changing world? How do we address them together in a spirit of solidarity and respect? One thing is certain : Europe has to turn into a geopolitical power, both to the benefit of NATO and to address its own priorities. There is no European Defence without NATO. But NATO will remain credible only through stronger and sustainable European military commitments.”

Anna Fotyga MEP (ECR), Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs, former Polish foreign minister:

“NATO is the most successful alliance in modern history, and not only adjusts itself to adapt to emerging challenges, but also successfully cultivates a Europe whole, free and at peace via its enlargement policy, making it an effective security guarantor, assisting in stabilization and modernization, advancing conditions for prosperity for the hundreds of millions living under NATO’s umbrella.

The United States is not “turning its back on us” but in fact is doubling down on supporting us as we have today 70.000 American soldiers on our soil. In my region alone, Central and Eastern Europe, we feel this presence and it makes us more secure. Macron’s words – are contrary to the facts on the ground.

This is not the first time France has misjudged the value of maintaining transatlantic alliance. To repeat the same mistake would severely undermine Euro-Atlantic security at a time when unity is needed more than ever. Unfortunately, to call for closer dialogue with Russia and pretend that Putin governs a normal democratic state, is another “strategic error” from Paris”

Michał Baranowski, Director at German Marshall Fund, Warsaw office:

“From Germany to Poland to Brussels, key voices have reaffirmed the centrality of NATO and criticized Macron’s assessment as not only disruptive but also as damaging. The productive debate that Macron’s interview in The Economist sparked is about what responsibility Europeans can and should take for their own defence. The emerging consensus across Warsaw, Berlin, and Paris are that Europe should do more, that it needs greater capabilities, and the ability to act. Where some Europeans disagree, though, is on the role the United States will be willing and able to play in European security given the rise of its strategic competitor in Asia.

France under President Macron seems to be saying that the United States is already an unreliable ally, and therefore that it is time for Europe to go in the direction of strategic autonomy. That calculation seems to miss the reality that replacing US military capabilities in Europe alone would cost €350 billion. This, pushes Germany and Poland closer together, as they see NATO clearly at the centre of European security, even if they somewhat disagree on the long-term trajectory of the United States as a European power. But where all three countries agree is that Europe needs greater military capabilities.”

Kris Peeters MEP (EPP), Delegation chair for European Parliament relations with the NATO Parliamentary Assembly:

“French President Macron’s ‘brain death-statement’ was, for many, a bridge too far. Nevertheless, it was a wake-up call to focus on building a strong and sovereign Europe.The EU should expand its military capacities and speed up its integration. Nevertheless, the NATO alliance between EU and NATO has proven its efficiency in many military operations.

The main challenge for European members of NATO is how they will organise their European defence. Macron’s statement was right on time. The question in the coming years will not be whether Europeans will do more, but along which lines they will act – whether this will be the federalist way with a fully integrated defence under an EU framework, embodied in the PESCO-initiative; the Atlanticist option, which considers NATO as the only place for European defence initiatives, or a more intergovernmental approach that bypasses collective structures to work in ad hoc coalitions like the French-led initiative of the European Intervention Initiative.

I assume that the result will carry the best of all different views, which is an integrated defence, which can respond swiftly and autonomous, but is able to collaborate under the NATO umbrella if needed.”

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