Veronica Anghel: the worth of a NATO Eastern Flank Working Group

PHOTO: Erakogu

The true value of binding agreements lies in their implementation. The willingness and attention with which a contract is negotiated is an indicator of the document’s ceremonial or substantial value. And then, the functioning mechanisms set up to implement these agreements make or break its success.

On November 4th 2015, the heads of NATO member states in Central and Eastern Europe met in Bucharest to agree on shared principles of conduct towards the Russian Federation. Reality was so inconsistent with public outcries and constructed images of disunity among NATO allies. The main reason behind this meeting was to underline that deterrence measures had to be real and observable. What was informally known as a meeting of the «Eastern Flank» produced a Joint Declaration on «Allied Solidarity and Shared Responsibility». The nine allies reinforced the pledge made at Wales while emphasising particular, regional concerns. The successful implementation of the joint statement will be put to the test in Warsaw. Will they remain united in their view to «stand firm on the need for Russia to return to respect of international law as well as of its international obligations, responsibilities and commitments as a pre-condition for a NATO – Russia relationship based on trust and confidence», as it was signed on at the time? Or will they be more complacent to the calls of other allies who think it is time to trust in the inherent normalisation of the relationship? What can we speculate from the proceedings of that meeting and the agreement it produced?  

Summit Proceedings

The Presidents of Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and the President of the Chamber of Deputies of the Czech Republic (!), their teams of advisors, national governments and the respective country ambassadors to NATO decided it is important to invest time, energy and financial resources to put together a summit, negotiate at length a joint statement and show that they can speak with one voice to the NATO leadership and the general public.

A lot went into the preparation of the meeting. From a joint Romanian – Polish presidential invitation, the highest level of representation of the said countries was required. With the exception of the Czech President, whose decisions were restricted by internal political concerns, the response was positive. It was not a lengthy process of negotiation. It was a rapid confirmation that member states wanted to ascribe importance and weight to the proposed meeting. Deputy NATO Secretary General Alexander Vershbow was also present.

The decision whether the allies would agree on a similar content and tone to sign a joint statement followed. The carefully provided feedback to the initial Romanian-Polish proposal was another sign of the importance ascribed to the event. Country ambassadors to NATO took on the brunt of the negotiations. Once such a close to ideal draft would be ready, the other allies were also informed of the proceedings. It felt democratic, transparent and cohesive. For a first time participant to such a multilateral process, it was encouraging. Reality was so inconsistent with public outcries and constructed images of disunity among NATO allies. Equally so, during the talks, leaders showed similar concerns, making national statements from which none stood out as being too aggressive or too lenient.

«What did Eastern Europe ever do for us?»

In preparing the meeting, as a researcher of coalition building and the mechanisms that make them functional, I wondered how best to make use of an added binding agreement that more or less reinforced the decisions already taken at the Wales. All back up deals between some of the partners of a coalition usually result in the weakening of the coalition as a whole. As such, it was also important to keep the other allies informed of the organisers’ actual intentions. Misunderstandings could easily be used against the unity of NATO by those who dwell on its weakness. It was meant to be a working group in preparation of the Warsaw Summit. One that, for good reasons, pledged «to further use this open platform of consultations and dialogue».

Firstly, Central and Eastern European NATO partners would thus prove their worth in an organised manner on specific issues to which they have a more sensitive ear: the strategic neighbourhood, strategic communication in countering Russian propaganda, hybrid warfare and cyber defence. Secondly, in any emergency, one must first count on itself and then on your immediate neighbours. Thirdly, the big spenders, and particularly the US, will never full-heartedly intervene out of pity alone and without having an interest. Showing strength, lucidity and initiative within a community of neighbours with shared values could only make our partnerships more beneficial. For these reasons and more, the «Eastern Flank» working group is a useful tool that needs support.

The Joint Statement signed on November 4th should be included among the negotiations documents for at the Warsaw Summit. From an institutional point of view, it cannot be ignored.  But what is more, Eastern European countries themselves must effectively appeal to all allies by showing their strengths and respecting their binding agreements…which includes the 2% GDP spending on national defence.