The next NATO summit, set for July in Warsaw, is arguably one of the most important meetings of the alliance’s heads of state in the post-Cold War era. European security is at its worst since the end of the Cold War, while Europe finds itself facing a range of serious internal challenges, including continued slow economic growth, the influx of migrants and refugees and the rise of extremist parties. The United States, on the other hand, is distracted by its own poisoned domestic politics and must contend with security challenges in not only Europe, but also the Middle East and the South China Sea.
Still, NATO members have a chance at the summit to set the alliance on the right path forward, if the meeting can deliver a boost to defense and deterrence in Europe’s east, and begin to formulate a more active role for NATO around the Mediterranean.
The European security environment today is not only more challenging but also more complex than at any time since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Russia’s aggression in Ukraine—and before that against Georgia, in 2008—and what it says about the future of European security still loom large. In the last two years, Russia has continued to test both NATO and its eastern members with snap exercises, cyber attacks and close and dangerous encounters in the air and sea. Here, the Baltic Sea region especially stands out as a zone of friction between Russia and NATO. In recent weeks, Russian fighter jets buzzed a U.S. destroyer and two U.S. reconnaissance flights at close range in the Baltic Sea. NATO’s Baltic members would be particularly exposed during a crisis or potential conflict with Russia, given their limited geographical links to the rest of the alliance.