NATO leaders yesterday met for a crucial summit in Warsaw, Poland, to send a clear message to a resurgent Russia, while trying to contain the fallout from Britain’s dramatic divorce from the EU.
Britain’s future is to dominate talks between US President Barack Obama, attending his last NATO summit, EU President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
“This may be the most important moment for our transatlantic alliance since the end of the Cold War,” Obama wrote in the Financial Times as the two-day summit got under way.
He said he was also “confident that the UK and the EU will be able to agree on an orderly transition to a new relationship.”
Obama was due to meet British Prime Minister David Cameron, who is set to resign over the Brexit vote, at the summit.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg yesterday said that while the June 23 referendum result would inevitably change Britain’s ties to the EU, “it will not change UK’s leading position in NATO.”
Security was tight across the Polish capital, with police locking down roads to the venue in Poland’s national stadium and helicopters flying overhead.
The uncertainty over Britain, a key nuclear-armed ally, comes as NATO prepares to endorse its biggest revamp since the end of the Cold War in response to Russia’s 2014 intervention in Ukraine.
The summit centerpiece is a “Readiness Action Plan” to bolster NATO resources and readiness in the face of a Russia under Russian President Vladimir Putin that the allies now see as more aggressive and dangerously unpredictable.
NATO leaders will approve rotating four battalions in eastern Europe — in Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, up to 4,000 troops in all — as a collective tripwire against fresh Russian adventurism.
Stoltenberg said this would “make clear that an attack on one ally will be met by forces from across the whole alliance.”
The plan also includes a pledge to spend 2 percent of annual economic output on defense, ending years of cuts, and the creation of a 5,000-strong “Spearhead” force ready to deploy within days.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday said that while Russia’s actions in Ukraine had eroded mutual trust, the alliance should balance “deterrence and dialogue” with Moscow.
However, Stoltenberg sounded a conciliatory note on Russia, with the alliance due to hold fresh talks with Moscow just after the summit.
“Russia is our biggest neighbor and an integral party of European security so sustaining dialogue is essential,” Stoltenberg said. “NATO does not want a new Cold War. The Cold War is history and should remain history.”
Russia has said it would examine closely what is decided at the summit for how it affects its security.
Moscow bitterly opposes NATO’s expansion into its Soviet-era satellites, which it sees as a threat to its own security.
It is even more strident in its opposition to the Ballistic Missile Defense system the US is building and which the summit is due to declare has reached an initial operating level.
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