It is important that, during the forthcoming Brussels summit, the alliance recognizes the threat Russia poses in these neglected areas.
The NATO summit in Brussels on 11-12 July is likely to be highly political. The Atlantic alliance is increasingly polarised due to disagreements over burden-sharing arrangements, national contributions and transatlantic solidarity. But NATO members cannot let these disagreements get in the way of addressing the ‘Russian challenge’ – the increasing tensions with Moscow as the Kremlin explores the boundaries of escalation with the alliance and tried to destabilize it.
Prospects for improving relations with Moscow are minimal, especially in light of recent developments. The latest meeting of the NATO–Russia Council on 31 May (the first since October 2017) and the meeting between the chief of staff of the Russian armed forces, Valery Gerasimov, and the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joseph Dunford, on 8 June achieved very little. Although a welcomed addition to the NATO architecture in Europe, the recent approval of the ‘Four Thirties’ plan, aimed at strengthening NATO troops and increasing combat-readiness, will further antagonize the Kremlin.
Since 2014, the alliance has adapted to focus on Russia’s actions in eastern Europe, notably in the Baltic region and in Poland. The agreements made during the NATO Warsaw summit of 2016, notably the ‘3Ds’ of ‘defence, deterrence, dialogue’, are sound and should be reinforced.
But strengthening NATO’s eastern flank is not enough. Little has been done to work out a coherent vision for how to protect NATO interests in the Arctic or in the Black Sea. This is worrying since Russia is emboldened in both regions, as seen through brinksmanship such as provocative air manoeuvring, an assertive force posture and constant military drilling.
In the Arctic and its broader neighbourhood, known as the High North, Russia is projecting military power and anticipates competition with Arctic countries as well as China. The Kremlin defined its Arctic strategy back in 2008 and named the High North a region of strategic importance in its 2017 naval doctrine.