The three D’s – Defence, Deterrence and Dialogue – were the main message of the NATO Warsaw Summit that took place on 8-9 July this year. The main message also corresponded to the major aim of the Summit: to show the unity and resoluteness of the Alliance in the face of contemporary challenges to international security, namely Russia’s aggressive actions, the ongoing crisis in Syria, ISIL/Daesh, terrorism and violent extremism, the refugee and migrant crisis, and cyber attacks.
NATO devoted significant attention to the defence of East European Allies and deterring Russia. Hence, according to the statements and declarations of NATO officials and the heads of the Allied states, NATO will deploy, by rotation, multinational battalions in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed the readiness of Canada, Germany, the UK and US to lead these battalions. The Alliance will also transform a Romanian brigade into a multinational brigade. At the moment only an increased ground presence has been confirmed, but NATO will assess, most likely in autumn this year, options for a strengthened air and maritime presence. Moreover, NATO reaffirmed its decision to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation with Russia because of its destabilising actions and policies (the ongoing annexation of Crimea, the destabilisation of eastern Ukraine, irresponsible and aggressive nuclear rhetoric, etc.), while remaining open to a political dialogue with Russia.
Helping non-Allied states that have become victims of Russian aggression in recent years was also on NATO’s agenda. Thus, the Alliance will intensify cooperation with Georgia to help strengthen the country’s defence capabilities, interoperability and resilience, thereby helping Georgia progress in its preparations for membership. NATO also reaffirmed its support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, its territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders and the country’s right to decide its own future and foreign policy course. The Alliance endorsed the Comprehensive Assistance Package, which contains 40 areas predominantly related to defence structures and the security sector where NATO will support Ukraine. As could be expected, however, no membership prospects were mentioned in relation to Ukraine. Regrettably, the Warsaw Summit paid little attention to Moldova, and the final declaration only referred to the Moldova-related initiatives agreed upon at the NATO Wales Summit in 2014.
Important decisions were made with regard to NATO’s closest allies. The Alliance will deepen cooperation with the EU in several areas, including cyber security and defence, in addition to facilitating a stronger defence industry and greater cooperation between defence research and industry. In particular, as part of the deepened cooperation with the EU, NATO agreed to play a role in the Central Mediterranean with the aim of neutralising established refugee smuggling routes to Europe. The Alliance will continue to contribute to the Global Coalition in countering the threat of ISIL/Daesh and securing its lasting defeat, and it reaffirmed its commitment to ensuring long-term security and stability in Afghanistan. To this end, NATO will continue to deliver training, advice, and assistance to Afghan security institutions and forces, in addition to contributing to the financial sustainment of the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces until the end of 2020.
At the Summit, NATO also decided to increase its capabilities and, importantly, established a new Joint Intelligence and Security Division to improve the Alliance’s ability to maximise the existing resources of NATO and individual Allies, enhance interconnectivity across systems, improve training and expertise among the personnel, and develop better procedures for information handling and sharing. Moreover, the Alliance recognised cyberspace as a domain of operations – similar to the air, land and sea – but it did not specify whether a massive cyber attack could possibly trigger Article 5, i.e. the cornerstone of NATO’s collective security (an attack against one NATO member is an attack against all NATO members).
Central-East European countries, namely, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania appear to be content with the results of the Summit. Presidents of Estonia and Latvia Toomas Hendrik Ilves and Raimonds Vējonis praised the decisions made at the Summit when they met in Jūrmala on 12 July. During the meeting, President Ilves said: “The NATO Summit gave us confidence, once again, that the protection of all the allies is important for the alliance”. Romanian President Klaus Iohannis called the Summit a success for Romania, stating that his country is consolidating its position as a regional actor that efficiently contributes to maintaining stability in a region with risks and challenges. He also added: “We have requested and obtained the development of new options for the air and maritime dimension of the Black Sea”. (While this was not discussed at the Summit, the maritime aspect of an increased NATO presence in the Black Sea could offer points for cooperation and engagement with Ukraine and Georgia.) Krzysztof Szczerski, chief aide to Poland’s President Andrzej Duda, said that the president was “very satisfied with the results of the summit, with all the decisions made, with all the talks taking place [there]”.
For Poland, however, the Summit, or, rather, developments during the Summit were far from idyllic. Speaking after a bilateral meeting with the Polish president, US President Barack Obama said that he “expressed to President Duda our concerns over certain actions and the impasse around Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal”. While Obama stressed that the US was “very respectful of Poland’s sovereignty”, he noted that “more work needs to be done” on the legislation, and urged the ruling right-wing Law and Justice party and the opposition parties “to work together to sustain Poland’s democratic institutions”.
Obama’s criticism was related to the controversial internal developments in Poland that started in autumn last year after Law and Justice, led by Jarosław Kaczyński, won the parliamentary elections. The party was able to form a majority – albeit not a constitutional majority – in parliament, and almost immediately amended the law on the Constitutional Tribunal. This triggered a constitutional crisis in Poland that involved several sides: Law and Justice, the opposition parties (especially Civic Platform), civil society (hundreds of thousands of Poles protested against the actions of Law and Justice), and the European Commission. The latter consistently criticised the amendments that were passed and has been engaged in dialogue with the Polish authorities since the end of 2015. In March this year, the Venice Commission, which is a major advisory body to the Council of Europe in the field of constitutional law, formulated an opinion stating that the amendments adopted by Law and Justice were incompatible with the requirements of the rule of law. In June, the European Commission invited the Polish authorities to respond to criticism. In other words, Polish authorities were expected to take a step back and revise their amendments related to the Constitutional Tribunal.
In the conflict between Law and Justice and the European Commission, both sides have operated from positions of weakness.
Law and Justice understood that they were failing to convince the institutions of the European Union of the presumed legitimacy of their actions – a failure that led to the growing isolation of the country in the West. Moreover, unlike the Hungarian party Fidesz, which is part of the strongest political group in the European Parliament, i.e. the European People’s Party, dominated by the Christian Democratic Union of Germany, Law and Justice’s MEPs belong to the European Conservatives and Reformists group which has no commensurate significance and, therefore, cannot provide effective support for Law and Justice. All of this could have been less troublesome for Polish authorities if they had not required support from Western societies when it comes to deterring Russian aggression. Law and Justice had primarily placed their bets on the position of the US, which Kaczyński’s party respects much more than either the EU or any individual Member State, and Polish authorities appeared to be encouraged by the Americans’ silence on the constitutional crisis.
The European Commission had its own problems. Against the background of the rise of Euroscepticism in recent years and the approaching Brexit referendum in the UK, the Commission seemed to be torn between the need to uphold the rule of law and prevent the emergence of a “second Hungarian case” on the one hand, and unwillingness to put pressure from Brussels on a sovereign state, thereby risking inciting even more Euroscepticism on the other. The Commission was rooting for an internal Polish bargain between Law and Justice and the major opposition parties – such a bargain would not necessarily be crystal-clear in terms of compliance with legal procedures, but it would allow the crisis to be solved without involving outside institutions such as the European Commission. One problem with this scenario would be the reactions to a potential deal from the Committee for the Defence of Democracy, a non-partisan civic organisation formed in response to the constitutional crisis.
In the end, Law and Justice decided not to make such a deal with the opposition, and, on the night before the start of the NATO Summit, they rushed to adopt a new law on the Constitutional Tribunal in a tactical move to show “a work in progress” and appease the critics. The new law, however, differed little from the one criticised by the Venice Commission and the European Commission, hence Obama’s argument that “more work needs to be done”.
It seems that Law and Justice was prepared for mild criticism from the Americans, but Obama’s rhetoric, although carefully worded, was tougher than Law and Justice expected. Polish public broadcasting company Telewizja Polska, which has been increasingly dominated by the authorities and is currently chaired by Jacek Kurski who is closely connected to Law and Justice, even censored Obama’s speech so it looked like the US president praised, rather than expressed concern about, the rule of law in Poland. The independent Polish media promptly exposed Telewizja Polska’s act of censorship, adding to the growing concern about the situation of the public media in Poland.
Obama’s criticism and the embarrassing act of censorship of his speech notwithstanding, the NATO Warsaw Summit proved on balance to be successful for Poland’s foreign policy goals, as well as those of NATO’s other Eastern Allies, as they have managed to secure NATO’s increased presence on the Eastern flanks as part of a defence against, and a deterrent to, Putin’s Russia. Nevertheless, with the UK gradually losing its influence following the Brexit referendum and most likely leaving the EU within a few years, Poland and NATO’s Eastern Allies are losing an important ally that provided significant political support for these countries in the EU and NATO. Law and Justice may also face growing isolation on the European level, especially if it does not find an acceptable solution for the constitutional crisis and continues questionable practices in the media sphere.
Anton Shekhovtsov is Visiting Fellow at the IWM and Fellow of the Legatum Institute (UK). He is also General Editor of Explorations of the Far Right book series at ibidem-Verlag.
© Author / Transit Online