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NATO’s 'Non-Summit': What Can We Expect?

Observers will be trying to work out where the alliance is heading.

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By Professor Michael Clarke, Distinguished Fellow, RUSI

The NATO summit, or "leaders meeting" as it chooses to be known in an effort to manage expectations, will be dominated by all the big names attending.

There will be no shortage of them - some 29 leaders attending, and a 30th, representing North Macedonia, which is expected to join the alliance early next year (and who would have joined this year had its membership approval not been delayed by the elections in Spain).

Of course, all the media attention will be on President Trump, President Macron, President Erdogan and, yes, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, among others as observers try to work out where the alliance is heading.

But a lot of detailed preparatory work has been done by the British team to prepare as many eye-catching results as possible to be announced in a ‘London Declaration’ on Wednesday evening.

Officials are hoping that a series of announcements will direct the attention of NATO publics to some of the specific agreements that have been secured in advance, rather than the atmospherics of likely tension between all the big beasts.

Family Portrait at Lancaster House of the delegates attending the NATO Summit in London July 1990 (Picture: MOD).

What are the specifics that we should look out for?

One will be a recognition that this is, after all, NATO’s 70th birthday and the simple fact remains that no member of NATO has ever been invaded.

That certainly means something and the alliance will say it loudly.

More specifically, British officials hope that they will be able to reinforce all the pledges made at the Wales NATO summit in 2014.

They now characterise that meeting as the ‘wake-up’ moment for NATO, and they hope they can show that NATO members are still wide awake and even more alert to the challenges six years later.

Part of this will be to show that European NATO members are prepared to live up to the defence spending commitments they made then.

But look out for some mealy-mouthed backsliding all the same.

Will space be on the agenda during the next two days? (Picture: NASA).

There will be a big push to popularise the NATO Readiness Initiative, or the ‘four 30s’ as it is known, to have 30 air units, 30 naval units and 30 ground force formations ready to deploy inside 30 days.

In an earnest of intent, Britain has already designated two RAF squadrons, six combat ships, three Army battle-groups and no less than aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth as being available and deployable within the 30-day period specified.

If the alliance can make this one stick in the near future, it will a significant achievement in readiness.

Other important declarations can be expected on NATO’s cyber security policy and the creation of a cyber ops centre; designating space as a domain of warfare that NATO must address, and to initiate more detailed work on hybrid warfare for the future.

Donald Trump with Jens Stoltenberg at NATO Summit in Brussels 110718 CREDIT NATO
Donald Trump with Jens Stoltenberg at NATO Summit in Brussels, July 2018 (Picture: NATO TV).

Other work can be expected to be announced on new and disruptive technologies.

In all of these cases, British officials take some pride in the fact that NATO will be announcing ideas and future work programmes that have been derived largely from existing British initiatives.

Two other significant areas are also down for discussion; namely political relations with Russia and the effect of increasing Chinese involvement in European economies and potentially in the continent’s politics.

But one look at the list of all the various big beasts at the meeting, what they represent and what they have said, or not said, about Russia and China, and it would represent a triumph of hope over experience to expect anything significant to emerge on either of these subjects.