NATO leaders are currently meeting in Newport, on September 4-5, for the 2014 NATO Summit in Wales. The summit takes place during one of the most tense geopolitical contexts since the end of the Cold War. The lengthy frozen conflict between Russia and Ukraine has created serious geopolitical and diplomatic tensions between the West and Russia and within European partners. The summit, which is the first one since the 2012 version in Chicago, looks at ending the longest NATO military mission in its history, Afghanistan, by the end of the year, but will remain a platform for talks on Ukraine and ISIS. Back in 2012, the motto was about Smart Defense, meaning doing more with less, while two years later it is all about dealing with Russia and coalition building against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Officially, the issues on the menu of the 2014 NATO summit are:
- Crisis in Ukraine and NATO relationship with Russia;
- Afghanistan’s future;
- Tackling new threats;
- Strengthening support for NATO Armed Forces;
- Strengthening partnerships;
Ukraine and Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) – The Centerpieces of the Summit
Clearly the two issues topping the NATO agenda are Ukraine and ISIS. Such claim is directly validated by the recent joint op-ed written by President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron in the Times of London, wherein both leaders argued that “by working together we are stronger, whether in standing up to Russia or confronting ISIL [known as well as ISIS].” For Europe, the Ukrainian file is on top of the agenda, while for the Americans it is the situation in Syria and Iraq caused by the threat of ISIS.
In the case of the war between Ukraine and Russia, Euro-Atlantic leaders have expressed their concerns about the behavior of Russia. For instance, Obama and Cameron wrote “Russia has ripped up the rulebook with its illegal, self-declared annexation of Crimea and its troops on Ukrainian soil threatening and undermining a sovereign nation state” (NATO published late August on its website satellite imagery proving the presence of Russian armed forces inside Ukraine). The conflict initially started back in November 2013 when the former president, Viktor Yanukovych, decided not to sign the agreement with the European Union (EU) but rather sought at the last minute to deepen Ukrainian relationship with Russia. Such political decision led to domestic tensions and manifestations in Kiev against the pro-Russian political establishment. Moscow feared at that point a complete flip of Ukraine towards the West, as it recalled the 2004 Orange Revolution. Then it was a simple domino effect. Moscow took over by offering an economic boost to Ukraine in December 2013. By January the situation in Ukraine was so unstable that Yanukovych could not control it and disappeared by the end of February. In the meantime, Russian troops appeared in Crimea and took slowly the control. By march, Crimea was annexed by Russia following a referendum. Crimea was not enough for Moscow, which has since sponsored the pro-Russian militiamen in Eastern Ukraine. In recent day, the Russian army has been deployed inside Ukraine. The President of the Commission, José Manuel Barroso, even reported Putin saying during a phone conversation, “If I [Putin] want, I can take Kiev in two weeks.” Moscow has certainly transformed a domestic opposition into a regional frozen conflict fostering concerns inside the Euro-Atlantic community.
The second topic is the threat of ISIS looming over the Middle East and its eventual repercussions on Western national security (listen here a good podcast on the topic). ISIS has emerged as a top priority for the US and Western Europe in June – at least in the press (read here and here articles on the topic) -, but was already on the radar of Western governments and secret services for quite some times. ISIS is creating a series of security dilemmas for the West: first, it is considered as one of the most dangerous terrorist networks thanks to its territorial control and well armed forces; second, ISIS is attracting Westerners deciding to train and fight for the network (over 100 US citizens are currently fighting in Iraq and Syria). Western governments are increasingly worried of an eventual terrorist attack perpetuated by one of their citizens; third, ISIS is undeniably receiving assistance and help from powerful individuals and eventually regimes; fourth, ISIS territorial control in Syria and Iraq is a threat to the regional stability. The US has expressed the need to “degrade and destroy the capability of ISIL [ISIS] to come after U.S. interests all over the world, and our allies.”
After the use of airstrikes perpetuated by the US and military sponsoring of the Kurds by European countries, the UK and the US are now trying to build a coalition during the summit against ISIS. It was not a coincidence that Secretary of State, John Kerry, published an op-ed in the New York Times on August 29th, advocating for the creation of a global coalition to handle ISIS (as a side note, the hawkish establishment of American foreign policy embodied in John McCain and Lindsey Graham responded to Kerry’s op-ed through the traditional argument of “ISIS is a military force, and it must be confronted militarily”). In his op-ed, Kerry lays out the American strategy to handle the rise of ISIS. First, he announced that Chuck Hagel, Secretary of Defense, and himself will be working during the Wales’ summit to build a coalition against ISIS, and then will travel to the Middle East. In September, the US will hold the Presidency of the UN Security Council, which will be used in order to get greater attention, and eventually resolution, in regards to ISIS. Such piece reflects that the American strategy certainly consists in arming the Kurds and using airstrikes, but the endgame is ultimately the creation of a global coalition to destroy ISIS. Its destruction would require going after ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Kerry chooses to illustrate the benefit behind the use of multilateralism by demonstrating its success during the 1990 campaign against Saddam Hussein. Does it mean that the US may be willing to send troops on the ground with its allies?
Days prior the NATO summit, Moscow announced a seven-points ceasefire in order to end the fight in Ukraine. But, why a sudden shift of strategy in Moscow? One reason could be that Putin wants to limit the consequences and decisions taken in Newport by a worried West. For instance, France already announced an halt in the delivery of the mistral-class warship to Russia arguing that “the conditions under which France could authorise the delivery of the first helicopter carrier are not in place.” However, this does not mean that France has canceled the order. It is just part of the diplomatic game of not upsetting Paris’ allies. By presenting itself more open to solving the crisis, Putin may avoid further European sanctions. Unmistakably Putin continues to play chess, nothing less. In any case, Ukrainian President, Petro O. Poroshenko, said at the Summit that he will seek to solidify a bilateral ceasefire between Ukraine and the pro-Russian separatists. Nevertheless, the Ukrainian conflict is far from being solved.
Moscow absolute redline is simple: no NATO membership for Ukraine. NATO members know it and may not be going down the membership road. A simple trade agreement between the EU and Ukraine was at the origin of this lasting conflict. NATO may be increasing its presence in Eastern Europe and conducting training exercises, but its members are well aware of the importance of staying on the banks of the Rubicon. After this tumultuous summer, the NATO summit falls at the right time and right place for Western leaders in order to reassess their shared interests and reaffirm their commitments to common values.(Copyright 2014 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).