NATO: Anchors and Road-Signs

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This article was originally published by Security and Defence Agenda (SDA) on 5 June 2014

The Russian aggression in Ukraine, while clearly reconfirming NATO’ utility, has led many Poles to question the Alliance’s ability to guarantee our security or to effectively respond to crises in its neighbourhood.

When Poland joined NATO in 1999, our dream of re-joining the “alliance of the free world” came true. Both fifteen years ago and today, what matters most to us is the guarantee of Article 5 of the Washington Treaty (“one for all, all for one”). This political commitment is for us declined in three “anchors”.

The first is NATO’s new Strategic Concept, adopted in 2010, which acknowledges the need for contingency plans, to organize joint exercises and Trainings and to give a “visible assurance” to ensure collective defence. It is the Atlantic community’s main road-sign.

Another anchor is the contingency plan negotiated by Poland between 2008 and 2010, which produced scenarios ready in case of an attack from the East. Similar plans were drawn up for Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia at the end of the previous decade. These contingency plans need regular updating and the active involvement of more member states.

The third anchor is joint exercises such as „Steadfast Jazz”, held last year in Poland, which show the Allies’ determination to defend the “eastern flank”. I hope that such exercises continue to be held regularly, just as Russian and Belarussian armed forces train together during the „Zapad” exercises.

NATO’s institutional presence in Poland, through the Joint Force Training Centre and the allied Signals Battalion, strengthens the Poles’ feeling of security. The more of NATO there is in Poland, the greater the certainty that NATO’s protective umbrella is tight and effective.

Similarly, the NATO Security Investment Programme creates a financial anchor. With more than 650 million euro, it has helped modernise our airports, naval and logistic bases. Krzesiny, Świnoujście or Gdynia today are a world apart from fifteen years ago when I first visited them as deputy minister of national defence.

The final anchor is the presence of American troops in Poland. The Aviation Detachment, which organizes joint trainings of F16 and Hercules pilots, is a symbolic confirmation of U.S. obligations towards Poland. There should be more joint exercises, trainings, soldiers and a permanent presence of American forces in Poland.

By strengthening these anchors, we will better influence the shape of the Alliance’s defence policy and its renewed importance in 2014 in the face of the Russian aggression in Ukraine.

The North Atlantic Treaty’s summit in Newport in September will discuss the future of the Alliance after Afghanistan, how to proceed in the Russian and Ukrainian crisis, and will need to develop a strategic multiannual vision.

The commitment to collective defence must be strengthened in practice. It is in our interest that the Alliance be able to respond effectively in a crisis and that it increase its presence in Poland. To do this, four things must happen.

First we need to keep the U.S. in Europe. Barack Obama’s presidency has showed a clear shift of the U.S. towards Asia and the Pacific region. As a result, the number of American forces in Europe has decreased, but these changes cannot weaken the Alliance or affect its ability to respond quickly. Europeans must convince the U.S. that the transatlantic bond should be maintained.

Secondly, we need more Europe in NATO. European countries should reverse the dangerous trend of defence budget reduction and better manage their resources by specialising and jointly acquiring defence capabilities. Multinational defence programmes are a must today and a chance to modernise Europe’s defence. Without more Europe in NATO, the U.S. cannot be motivated to stay engaged in European affairs.

Thirdly, we must redefine our relations with Russia. The partnership embodied by the NATO-Russia Council is seems outdated. We need a new policy, a stance to counter Russia’s aggressive attitude, particularly its challenge of international law and its preference of force over dialogue and cooperation. President Putin is transforming Russia from a regional to a global power. The Alliance needs a smart containment policy to prevent Russian expansion in Eastern Europe, in the Southern Caucasus and in Central Asia.

Finally, we must strengthen cooperation with Ukraine in line with the Charter on Distinctive Partnership and support Kiev in the current situation. Before NATO begins reforming and rearming the Ukrainian armed forces, the West must engage politically on the side of Ukraine in the conflict with Russia.

In addition to these four challenges to be discussed in Newport, two more need solving. The Alliance must preserve the high level of interoperability acquired in Afghanistan after the drawdown. Programmes such as the Connected Forces Initiative on training, exercises and education, NATO’s new Training Concept for 2015-2020, the post-2016 exercise programme and the 2015 high visibility exercises can maintain the interoperability of the Alliance troops and prepare it for new challenges.

Secondly, NATO must develop a new, global partnership formula, as a lot has changed in international security since the Partnership for Peace was signed. Cooperation with some active players such as Australia or New Zealand has proved very fruitful, as with neighbours such as Sweden, who contributed substantially to the 2011 Libya operation. The Partnership for Peace should be replaced with a network of partners to reflect the Alliance’s global aspirations and to stabilize its neighbourhood. This Global Partnership Network should be discussed in Newport.

The NATO summit should also serve to recommit the Alliance to its missile shield project. Together with NATO’s cybersecurity policy, this gives a new dimension to article 5 of the Washington Treaty. Considering the current circumstances, the allies cannot abort this strategic undertaking.

NATO has changed, as seen in the last quarter of a century. Its history clearly shows that the model adopted in 1949 remains pertinent today. It is the allies’ attitudes which will now decide how long NATO can still make sense.


Bogdan Klich is a Senator of the Republic of Poland. He was Defence Minister in the government of Donald Tusk from 2007 to 2011 and a Member of the
European Parliament from 2004 to 2007.

This topic and other issues of global security were discussed at SDA’s annual conference on 4 June ahead of the NATO Summit in September.

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