At Upcoming NATO Summit, Countries Must Face Reality That Some Are More Equal Than Others

By Sandra I. Erwin

Several NATO members have in recent months wondered whether the “One for all, all for one” principle applies to them equally.

The question about equality among 28 member states is timely as the NATO summit gets underway in Wales this week.

The Baltic states and Poland in particular have for several months asked for “additional security guarantees.” These countries want to be certain that in the case of possible military aggression they will be supported by other NATO countries.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Barack Obama have in the past weeks tried to assure allies that NATO commitments do not solely exist on paper. Nevertheless, suspicion is in the air within NATO. At the same time, especially in Poland, there has been discussion about what each member state’s commitment — under Article Five to aid its victimized ally with “action as it deems necessary” — means in reality. Would, for instance, the United Kingdom be willing to send its elite troops to Poland or the United States to uncover its hidden offensive cyber capabilities in order to guarantee Latvia’s security?

U.S. military bases have been perceived as a way of receiving additional security guarantees. There is a strong belief, both in the Baltic region and Poland, in the logic that says the United States is more committed to defend an ally which hosts its standing troops. Even if in the past months NATO has added its military rehearsals, almost tripled the number of troops in the Baltic region and increased naval patrolling in the Baltic Sea, discussion within NATO about opening new military bases is lively.

The defense minister of Poland recently asked the United States to place 10,000 American soldiers in Poland. Similarly, according to the latest poll, 74 percent of Germans object to the establishment of standing NATO bases in the Baltics and Poland which, in the current situation, see themselves being treated as “second-class citizens.”

However, there are other perspectives as well. Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves noted last week that “second-class members” within NATO are those that refuse to meet the recommendation of spending 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense. For the past year, the main message of the NATO secretary general has been to press the European member states to meet this recommendation. It is also a question of Article Three of the North Atlantic Treaty, which states that the parties “will maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack.”

In 2013, only four member states hit the 2 percent goal: the United States, the United Kingdom, Greece and Estonia.

How would NATO as an alliance defend its member states in a crisis situation? If, for example, Estonia faced a military attack and NATO did not react with strong measures, it would mean the end of the alliance’s credibility as a military and political alliance. It would also be very difficult for the United States to create or maintain credible security guarantees with any of its allies anymore.

Yet there is a more relevant question: With what resources and how quickly would other NATO members support their victimized ally? Would there be differences in this respect amongst member states?

There are four ways in which each NATO member state can best try to guarantee the certainty of support, its swiftness and sufficiency. One is by demonstrating both will and capability to defend others, also during difficult times. Another is by sufficiently looking after its own defense capability and meeting the 2 percent recommendation.

Another is by developing national capabilities on which the operations of the entire alliance depend. Members also should be active and cooperative toward strengthening the cohesion of the alliance.

The NATO summit in Wales is the last one before the alliance’s active military operations end in Afghanistan and the first summit after the shift in security situation in Europe. A communiqué of the summit will emphasize the most important task of the alliance – collective territorial defense which builds on credible physical and cyber defense capabilities against an attack or a threat thereof to any of its member states. Discussion about the parity of this principle amongst member states should continue even after the summit.

Jarno Limnéll is director of cyber security at McAfee and professor of cyber security at Aalto University, in Finland. The views expressed here are his own. You can follow him on Twitter @JarnoLim

Topics: International

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