, July 3, 2024

The Washington Summit Series

Jeffrey Clayton/Unsplash.com
Tidal Basin, Washington, DC
Tidal Basin, Washington, DC

NATO heads of state and government gathered in Washington on 9-11 July to mark the Alliance’s 75th anniversary. While a third year of full-scale war rages in Europe, they had to guard the tone of their celebrations. But it would be remiss of the Allies not to recognise the importance and success of their organisation. NATO remains the essential transatlantic forum. It has had huge positive impact on security in Europe and elsewhere, built shared understanding and purpose among a growing number of members, and successfully adapted to decades of changing circumstances. There is much to applaud. But there was also work to be done. The summit’s main business concerned Ukraine, defence and deterrence, and burden-sharing.

Read the commentary about the results of the summit: Low Expectations Mostly Met

Read our series of briefs that examines some of the key issues of the Washington Summit.

Brief 1. NATO-Ukraine: From Vilnius to Washington

In the first brief of the series, Henrik Larsen looks at the additional steps NATO might take in Washington to help Ukraine defeat Russia’s aggression. There is seemingly no common appetite to advance Ukraine’s membership status, but the Alliance is likely to take a new role in coordinating the delivery of lethal aid. It may also agree an initiative to secure more stable longer-term financing of military assistance. Even so, it is hard to see that NATO’s support and solidarity represent a genuine commitment to Ukraine’s future security.

Brief 2. NATO and the Baltic Region

In the second brief of the series, Toms Rostoks focuses on NATO’s role in defence and deterrence in the Baltic region. There has been good progress through the steps taken by the Baltic states and by their Allies, but substantial shortcomings remain in the Alliance’s posture on the north-east flank. The Baltic region thus remains a vulnerability for NATO.

Brief 3. The Washington Summit: Burden-sharing 

In the third brief of the series, Tony Lawrence looks at the perennial question of burden-sharing. The Allies will probably not agree to raise the 2% of GDP spending guideline in Washington. But in any case, their focus on this metric hides the real picture of how responsibility for security is shared across the Alliance. The European Allies certainly need to step up in all areas, but they should also consider reframing the burden-sharing discussion.

Brief 4. Finland: Integrating a new Ally

One of the more surprising consequences of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine was Finland’s accession to NATO in April 2023 (and Sweden’s in March 2024). In the fourth brief of the series, Iro Särkkä looks at Finland’s integration into the Alliance. Over the past year, Finland has found that its initial resistance to changing any aspect of its fiercely independent defence model is not sustainable in the face of the needs of NATO’s collective defence. As it integrates more closely, it has an opportunity to carve out a role as a champion of Nordic-Baltic interests.

Brief 5. NATO’s Regional Defence Plans

In the fifth brief of the series, Nele Loorents examines progress in implementing NATO’s regional defence plans. These operational plans, adopted at the Vilnius Summit in 2023, are also intended to be a key driver of NATO’s capability planning process. NATO has revealed little about the implementation of the plans in the past year. But it is clear that serious capability gaps need to be addressed if the Alliance’s deterrence and defence posture on the north-east flank and elsewhere is to be credible.

Brief 6. Keeping the Americans in

The European Allies will closely watch this year’s US elections, concerned that a second Trump Presidency may have devastating consequences for transatlantic relations. In the sixth brief of the series, Rachel Hoff looks at US rhetoric and attitudes towards NATO.  The good news is that polling shows that the majority of Americans are favourable towards NATO and support Article 5. But this support drops if the European Allies fail to meet NATO’s defence spending guidelines. Whoever wins the election in November, Europe will need to pull its weight to keep the US engaged.

Brief 7. Ukraine’s Practical Steps towards NATO

Ukraine recognises that while it is unlikely to be invited to join NATO any time soon, there is much it can do to prepare itself in advance of a formal invitation. In the final brief of the series, Maksym Skrypchenko describes Ukraine’s progress in implementing its defence reform agenda, focusing on its record of adopting NATO standards, and outlines the challenges of doing so in wartime. The continuing support of NATO Allies will be essential to these efforts. 

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