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NATO Wales and the Future of Western Grand Strategy

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International Relations Security Network, 7 August, 2014

By John Hemmings for ISN

By all accounts, the upcoming NATO Summit in Wales is likely to be one of the most important since the end of the Cold War. Originally cast as a post-Afghanistan ‘lessons-learned’ and maritime security summit, events in Ukraine and Crimea have dramatically shifted the agenda since February and highlighted the need to redevelop NATO’s core mission of collective defense and deterrence. The sudden massing of Russian armor and more than 150,000 Russian troops on Ukraine’s eastern border in February at the height of the crisis, reminded Western leaders – particularly those in Poland and the Baltic states – of their vulnerability to old-fashioned conventional forces. However, it has already become clear that these threat-perceptions of Russia are not held equally by all 28 member states in the Alliance, as Germany and Italy balance their security concerns with dependence on Moscow’s energy imports.

These differences may emerge as a serious problem during the summit, stymying a collective path forward. Worse still, European policy elites continue to worry about shifts in US global strategy, particularly the US Pivot strategy and how the shift of US attention away from the European theatre to the Asian one will affect force posture in-region. These fears are likely to run into US frustration over NATO members’ under-spending, a common feature of every NATO summit since the 1990s, and one that will have real – rather than symbolic – meaning this year. Of course, despite all of these challenges, NATO remains the most powerful global defensive alliance, in terms of its combined GDP, military spending, and military technology. As with all collective efforts, its real weaknesses lie in coordination. With the US Pivot to Asia likely to become a permanent feature of its global strategy, the NATO Wales Summit must find a strategic posture for the West that accepts and complements that reality.

What does the Pivot mean to Europe?

The US Pivot to Asia is still poorly understood in Europe. Some believe that the policy is merely rhetorical in nature, while others see it as a misjudged containment attempt towards China, one that – as Australian academic Hugh White contends –fans the flames of great power rivalry. Primarily, European elites view the Pivot in terms of its effect on European security.

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