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The 2016 Warsaw Summit – Peak of NATO’s Legitimacy Crisis?

10 days. 31,000 troops deployed. 3,000 vehicles. 105 aircraft. 12 ships. 24 states. The biggest such mobilisation since the end of the Cold War. No, this is not a declaration of war, only military exercise Anaconda-16. Welcome to the 2016 Warsaw Summit.

The upcoming North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) summit is due to take place in Warsaw, Poland, on 8 and 9 July 2016. It is the first time since NATO’s creation in 1949 that Warsaw has been chosen. The Polish argued that hosting the summit would be a sign of solidarity from NATO for their continued progress and support since joining post-Cold War. They wish to showcase their allegiance to NATO to an ever-shadowing, powerful neighbour, with Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski claiming that Russia poses a bigger existential threat to Europe than the Islamic State. One could also argue that the Alliance gets a timely, well-situated opportunity to show their strength to a traditional rival.

Russia’s reaction thus far has been cold and calculating, not ruling out any responses – a chilling prospect in an already burdened European political climate. It has amassed its own forces on the Western flank, with estimates being at 60 hours for Russian forces to defeat NATO’s.

Yet is Anaconda-16 truly necessary and justified as a preamble to a constructive summit? Why risk formally undoing hard-earned Occidental security promises to Mikhail Gorbachev in 1989, as well as voiding key clauses of the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act, in a climate of already frozen relations? Could it be a self-validating move on NATO’s part?

A primary concern for the summit is aiming to “prevent a split in the Alliance.” There are conflicting interests between the Eastern and Southern European members as to where the organisation’s regional security focus should lie. In addition to this – and the questions surrounding the roles of Germany, France and the United Kingdom (NATO’s three largest member states) – the American leadership has also been criticised for having substantially diminished in recent times. This sense of ‘abandonment’ needs to be addressed for NATO to maintain legitimacy, and cooperation in Anaconda-16 could be perceived as attempting to show that the United States is still very much present and ready to lead.

Economic matters are also creating a rift disrupting NATO’s continued status quo, with many member states “falling short of their financial commitments to the Alliance.” Reaching a consensus on member states’ GDP contribution to the organisation, with the aim of 2% defence expenditure by 2025, is on the summit’s agenda. This comes as some nations are presently suffering from high unemployment figures, with key players such as Italy having been economically “stuck in a downward spiral” since the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. Overall, this is a delicate matter for discussion, and a difficult decision to reach between 28 sovereign states with diverging interests.

Addressing the ever-deepening anti-NATO feeling among various organisations is also a matter for the summit to consider, albeit indirectly. European social activists have begun campaigns lobbying for their respective states’ exit from the organisation, launching tough petitions available in different languages. On a similar note – and also keeping an eventual war with Russia in mind – a conference was held at the European Parliament in the first week of June to discuss creating alternatives to a body such as NATO.

The World Peace Council has also criticised NATO for its imperialistic ambitions, openly asserting that its behaviour and actions are against fundamental principles of the United Nations, and calling for its dissolution. While support for the Alliance still seems generally strong among its members, notwithstanding their wide range of individual interests, the anti-NATO movement is not one to be taken lightly.

One can only hope that NATO’s self-proclaimed traditional role of world austerity authority will not have severe repercussions on this occasion. The Alliance should endeavour to return to operating its security affairs “in the spirit of trust and transparency,” remembering that its purpose is ultimately to serve peace and its members’ citizens. The summit will either deliver a striking blow to the agency’s legitimacy, or provide a much needed pillar for its progression on the path it has set out.

Ana Stuparu is a PhD student at the National Security College, Australian National University, with an interest in global politics and cyber strategy.

This article can be republished with attribution under a Creative Commons Licence. Please email with any questions or for more information.

Image credit: The U.S. Army and Defence Images (Flickr: Creative Commons)

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