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News | June 1, 2016

The NATO Warsaw Summit: How to Strengthen Alliance Cohesion

By Alexander Mattelaer Strategic Forum 296


Key Points

  • In July 2016 NATO leaders will meet in Warsaw to formally review whether earlier decisions on strengthening the Alliance’s collective defenses are sufficient. Greater efforts will be needed, but consensus may not be easy to achieve.

  • Below the surface, the cohesion of NATO is under severe strain from multiple crises including Russian revanchism, mass migration, and terrorism. Summit preparations are also taking place under the shadow of potential strategic shocks. Internal disagreements fueled by rising populism could lead to a British exit from the European Union, a disorderly breakdown of the Schengen system, or worse.

  • In this context it would be a mistake to underestimate the risk of NATO fragmentation. To strengthen cohesion, U.S. leaders should consider broadening the debate beyond the immediate concerns over Europe’s troubled neighborhood, fostering intra-European peer pressure on providing adequate military capabilities, and stimulating European nations to develop complementary force postures. These initiatives could revitalize the transatlantic bond, but would require patient engagement before and after the summit.