The NATO summit in Vilnius (11-12 July) will not be a historic summit. Ukraine will not receive an invitation for membership. Will the summit be a good one nonetheless? That depends on what offer 'in return’ this nation, which is defending itself – and us – will get? Will it not be an embarrassing offer? And also, the success of Vilnius will depend on the extent to which the decisions of last year’s NATO summit in Madrid are fulfilled.
Madrid set the bar high. The allies accepted a new NATO force model, representing a Copernican breakthrough since the end of the Cold War. Instead of 40,000 rapid reaction forces, they have called up 300,000. A third of them are to be ready to reinforce threatened areas of the alliance within 10 days and another 100,000 within 30 days.
A year is not enough to meet such a call. That is why the heads of state and government have given more time for their implementation – until the end of 2023. On the other hand, some of Madrid’s provisions were being implemented… even before Madrid. The rapid reaction force, with its command structures, in battle groups in the 8 countries of the eastern flank already numbered nearly 25,000 troops.
After Madrid, the operational readiness of strategic and other commands was raised. They were supplemented with new elements, including electronic warfare and protection of strategic assets in space. More units, with greater readiness, better and more often exercised, have been subordinated to the NATO military commander-in-chief (SACEUR).
Prior to Vilnius, the redeployment and reinforcement of battalion groups on the flank to brigade level had been trained for the first time, as recently as May this year. This was also linked to the new regional defence plans, in which specific tasks were assigned to specific troops. SACEUR finally found out what he had at its disposal. It is incredible it took so long. The military strategic-planning context for this was created by two key documents resulting from the Madrid decisions: The Concept of Deterrence and Defence of the Euro-Atlantic Area and The NATO Warfighting Capstone Concept.
Maintaining the Allies’ edge in defence technology was also served by the Madrid decisions to create an innovation acceleration fund (DIANA), bringing together the research and business potentials of Member States. The first call for proposals was launched in June this year.
The heads of state and government will therefore have something to show off in Vilnius. If this is matched by more ambitious defence spending commitments and pooling of resources in defence industry production, including much-needed ammunition for Ukraine, then perhaps the summit can be objectively regarded as, if not successful, then useful.
But for this to happen: firstly, financial commitments must lead to an exit from the closed circle of different membership categories, where for a number of years only seven countries have fulfilled the pledge to increase defence budgets to a minimum of 2% of GDP. Without this, strategic plans, including completing, arming, training and exercising 300,000 rapid response troops, cannot be implemented.
Secondly, the package for Ukraine must be robust. It is bad there is no consensus to invite it to join. But there has to be a concrete roadmap for getting there quickly. The transformation of the NATO-Ukraine Commission into a Council must carry with it a commitment of admission to NATO with the fulfilment of specific tasks and according to a set timetable. No bilateral or group guarantees can replace the guarantees of Article 5 of the Washington Treaty. Only a Ukraine fully anchored in NATO will have adequate protection for state reconstruction. And the transatlantic community will have the confidence of Ukraine emerge victorious from the war without having to seek alternative guarantees for its security. To this day, Kiev probably cannot forgive itself for giving up its nuclear weapons in exchange for the security promises of the Budapest Memorandum (1994).
Russia’s weakness cannot be an excuse for not fulfilling allied commitments. Prigozhin’s revolt exposed the Kremlin’s problems, but did not herald a change in the dictatorial nature of power in Russia. It certainly did not herald the break-up of the Russian Federation either. Ukraine has given some time to Europe but, as Radek Sikorski wrote in Foreign Affairs, “Europe’s Real Test Is Yet to Come”. Regardless of who the next president is, the US may find itself in a position where it will not help Europe. And Trump’s second term, unbelievable from our perspective can materialise without the help of Russian troll farms. This Teflon populist is not losing supporters despite the piling up of prosecution charges. And the fathers of the state did not foresee a situation in which a person tried in prison could run for the highest office in it.
The crushing assessments of the Europeans’ defence capabilities were recalled by the Washington-based CSIS in its Transforming European Defence report. The war in Ukraine verifies the proficiency of the Franco-German tandem. Instead of being a driving force, making structural European defence cooperation (PESCO) a platform for strategic rather than piecemeal cooperation, the Franco-German axis shows signs of weakening.
Poland will come to the Vilnius summit as a country spending over 4% of GDP in real terms. Unfortunately, the biggest beneficiaries of the massive arms procurement package will not be domestic industry and EU partners together. Poland will therefore spend more than it could by making joint acquisitions. It will be more expensive to operate the new systems. Above all, however, the opportunity to create a strong industrial base for a common European defence is being missed.
In Vilnius, it seems, the term of office of the current Secretary General of the Alliance will be extended. This is a good thing. One does not change horses in midstream. In a year’s time in Washington, at the 75th anniversary of the Alliance, let us elect a new SG from among the countries which defence contribution, in proportion to GDP, is the greatest and which, in this respect, have contributed especially to supporting Ukraine in its hopefully already victorious war with Russia. And let this new Alliance leader extend to Ukraine an invitation to join NATO. It will then be a truly historic summit.
Amb. (ret.) Tomasz Chłoń
Head of Research, Center for Population Diagnostics Łukasiewicz Research Network – PORT Polish Center for Technology Development