In July 2018, an important NATO summit took place, where new significant decisions were made regarding the security of Europe. Of course, we did not hear much about those, because President Trump stole the show.No matter what he said afterwards, he signed the closing statement at the end. The document indicates the alliance’s activities regarding the deterrence against Russia, foreign missions, etc. in the years to come.
While the last year’s NATO summit was a cautious consultation with the European allies, President Trump gave his genuine ego during the meeting on 11-12 July 2018. The shocking statements and tweets overloaded the press and determined the atmosphere of the summit. The American President emphasized his standard message: the NATO partners have to increase their spending on defense, especially Germany, which has long been a spike in the eyes of the president. However, diplomats worked very hard behind the scenes, and the closing statement of the NATO summit spoke for itself. In spite of the US President’s statements and the meeting with Vladimir Putin in the following week, the document clearly emphasized one of the most important efforts of NATO: the continuation of deterrence against Russia.
The military alliance went hard on the most sensitive issues, and they did not seem to kneel before the interests of Russia. They were discussing Georgia’s future membership in the NATO, a demand vis-à-vis Moscow to support the reconciliation in the Ukraine and the case of the Malaysian airplane shot down over separatist’s territories in the Ukraine some years ago. Whatever President Trump said earlier, his generals and diplomats seem to follow the decisive transatlantic line that has characterized the past few years of the foreign policy line of the United States.
The NATO summit has taken an important step in the transformation of the military organization. Within the framework of the NATO Readiness Initiative, 30 flying squadrons (12-14 aircrafts per squadron), 30 mechanized brigades (one brigade includes approximately 1500 soldiers) and 30 naval vessels (speaks for itself) can be deployed in 30 days. The decision obviously means that NATO is not capable for this at the moment. More than one million soldiers are ready to be deployed and the collaboration of the US and Turkey would mean two million soldiers more. However, NATO would loose one or more of its member states in case of an external invasion, owing to the slow mobilization pace of its troops.
The NATO Readiness Initiative not only consist of 30 naval vessels, brigades and squadrons ready to combat by 2020, but also constitutes steps that facilitate the mobilization of these units. According to the experience of the military exercises in the past few years, in spite of the rapid launch of an American unit from a German base to Romania or Poland, the customs regulations and the control of military documents would hold them up at the borders for several days. The introduction of the "Military Schengen Zone" would be a solution to this. It refers to the fact that military units could travel like tourists in Europe.
The decisions of the NATO summit this July included the foundation of two new NATO Headquarters. One of them will be established in Ulm, Germany and the other one in Norfolk, USA. The task of the German headquarter is to work out the details of the “Military Schengen Zone”, because governments and state officials gave green light to the initiative. At lower levels, new military headquarters will be established in Eastern Europe, in for example. Poland, the Baltics, Romania and it is expected to be the case in Hungary as well.
What has not been discussed, but part of the NATO Standby Initiative, is the acceleration of political decision-making. Although our troops can be deployed within 48 hours when they can cross two or three allied territories on wheels or rails, decision-makers could carry on debates in Brussels for long days. It is a false logic. NATO is an organization in which the 29 Member States have to make political decisions with consensus, but it is also crucial that these decisions are made fast.
While foreign missions played the key role in the NATO operations in the 2000s, their roles are becoming less significant. The alliance currently maintains missions in Kosovo (about 4000 soldiers) and in Afghanistan (about 15000 soldiers). However, a new mission is about to be launched in Iraq. The NATO Mission Iraq will focus on logistics. Therefore, the soldiers will not be involved in combat. The significance of small-scale missions is more political. The goal is to show Iraq and the US that the alliance is supporting other countries' efforts against the Islamic State.
The last spectacular element of the NATO summit is in connection with membership affairs. The presence of the alliance in the Balkans is constantly widening, which is especially important for Hungary. After the accession of Slovenia, Croatia and Albania, Montenegro became a member of NATO last year. Macedonia received the invitation during the current NATO summit, mainly due to the settlement of the name dispute with the Greeks. Of course this is not yet closed. Greece specified claims to be inserted in the bilateral agreement, which could only be accepted in Skopje in case of a small miracle. Therefore, there are still questions to be answered.
The next NATO summit will take place next year. In 2019, the alliance will be 70 years old. The first Central European countries, including Hungary, received membership 20 years ago. Regardless of the relationship between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, NATO is doing its job. The alliance continues to focus on the primary task of ensuring the security of its member states. There is no doubt that there will be more surprises and harsh statements on both coasts of the Atlantic in the coming moths and years. Fortunately, the soldiers and diplomats of the member states will continue to work in the background, in order to ensure the security of the continent.