Britain’s decision to quit the European Union, along with a migration crisis and Islamic militancy, leaves U.S. President Barack Obama seeking a show of unity at his last alliance summit to fend off accusations that NATO is obsolete and to dampen any Russian perceptions of weakness in the Western camp, Reuters reports.
“The NATO summit was not supposed to be about Britain,” said Ian Bond at the Centre of European Reform think-tank in London. “But NATO leaders will not be able to ignore the security implications of Britain’s vote to leave the EU,” he said.
Even with such a proliferation of issues, including a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan and Iran’s ballistic missile arsenal, the two-day summit will be dominated by NATO’s response to Russia and a conflict in Ukraine that the West accuses Moscow of fomenting at a cost of more than 9,000 lives.
Russia says it is the alliance, not Moscow, that is increasing the risks of a broader conflict in Europe, citing NATO’s biggest modernization since the Cold War and a U.S. missile defense shield as reasons to be worried.
NATO’s modernization is crystallizing around a new force in the Baltics and Poland of up to 4,000 troops to serve as a constant reminder to Moscow that the alliance is back to its founding mandate of defending its territory, after years of missions beyond its borders.
“We’re in a new relationship with a newly aggressive, newly assertive Russia,” said Douglas Lute, Washington’s envoy to NATO. “It’s brought us back to the primacy of our initial core task: collective defense, our immediate neighborhood.”
In Warsaw, the United States, Canada, Germany and Britain will step up to lead the four battalions on the eastern flank.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg confirmed that the NATO summit in Warsaw will make a decision to send four combat battalions to Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.
The deterrent will also be made up of a new network of eight small NATO outposts, more war games, and, if needed, a rapid response force, including air, maritime and special operations components of up to 40,000 personnel.
Air defenses in the Baltics, a strategy against potential Russian cyber attacks and a NATO presence in the Black Sea, where Russia has a fleet, will also be strengthened over time, NATO diplomats say.
While dismissed as merely a trip wire by some military experts, NATO says the battalions reassure the ex-Soviet countries in Europe that they are protected from the kind of annexation Russia orchestrated in February 2014 in Crimea.
NATO also avoids a return to the Cold War, when the United States had 300,000 service personnel stationed in Europe, and allows the alliance to respect a 1997 agreement with Russia not to put large numbers of troops permanently on NATO’s borders.