NATO Summits, the promises factory – Vilnius 11-12 July 2023

NATO Summits, the promises factory – Vilnius 11-12 July 2023

A meeting of the leaders of the 31 nations of the Atlantic Alliance ressembles a high mass. Each leader promises once again they are ready to “defend every corner of the Alliance’s territory”, as stated in the organisation’s founding charter.

The meeting gives the floor to everyone, especially the United States, to renew their support for Europe, in particular to the countries on the Eastern flank of the alliance. “Our commitment to Article V is ironclad”, you will hear repeated over the next few days.

If the official statements are predictable, it is because the significance of the NATO summits is eminently symbolic. NATO is based on the faith and trust that each of the Allies has in the others.

When they sit down together, the Allies work to mould this faith in unity and protection into a more concrete form. The collective defence of the transatlantic Alliance is fabricated at every stage, and the Vilnius meeting will be no exception.

Whether determining their relationship with China, incorporating the aspects of climate change into their concepts, or dissuading Russia from attacking them, the 31 Allies are faced with major decisions that continue to shape the future of the Alliance.

NATO-Ukraine at the centre of the table

The most symbolic decision will be that of Ukraine’s membership of NATO.

President Volodymyr Zelensky is travelling to Vilnius with one objective in mind: to ensure that his country gets on a clear path towards joining the Atlantic Alliance. This is however easier said than done.

The Americans and Germans are putting the brakes on for fear that too rapid an expansion towards Ukraine would provoke another strong reaction from Moscow. Last year, Vladimir Putin used NATO’s eastward expansion as an excuse to attack Kiev.

If there is a “pathway” to membership, they wants it to be framed by strict conditions of respect for the rule of law, control of territory and, last but not least, the end to the war.

“I don’t think there is unanimity in NATO about whether or not to bring Ukraine into the NATO family now, at this moment, in the middle of a war”, Joe Biden warned just before the summit in an interview with CNN.

This prospect clashes head-on with that shared on the Eastern front of the Alliance, which gathers the Baltic states, Poland, Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria.

For these countries, Ukraine’s accession should be as simple as possible, with as few conditions as possible, and above all, without reference to the end of the conflict, which could take years.

Listening to them, we need to go beyond the simple “promise” made in Bucharest 15 years ago, when the Allies said they “agreed that Ukraine will become a member of NATO”.

Whatever agreement is reached, it will strengthen the ties between NATO and Ukraine, and will send a strong message to Moscow: Ukraine is choosing its side and the West is ready to support it.

Increase spending, speed up production

The Allies are preparing to pledge more troops and resources for their collective defence.

The war on their borders is now encouraging NATO members to spend “at least” 2% of their GDP on defence, rather than seeing this as an ideal goal to be achieved. That said, there are no sanctions for countries that fail to meet the target.

What’s more, they plan to put in place a Defence Production Action Plan (DPAP) “to aggregate demand, boost capacity and increase interoperability”, said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg ahead of the meeting.

The plan is intended to give a signal, like a promise, to the defence industry that countries will place orders to replenish their stocks depleted by the flurry of deliveries to Ukraine, and to encourage them to increase the rate of production.

Finally, the Allies will endorse the new regional defence and deterrence plans. According to the new programme, 300,000 troops at high readiness, instead of the 40,000 currently under NATO command in the event of conflict.

The troops and equipment will be allocated to a specific geographical area of deployment. This guarantees they are trained and equipped to fight amongst specific conditions.

In the coming years, the Allies will have to invest and recruit to meet the targets set by NATO Commander, SACEUR.

These plans should complement the troops and equipment placed on the Alliance’s eastern flank, reinforcing its deterrent posture against Russia in particular.