NATO gets set to put its house in order

03:10 - Source: CNN
Is NATO still relevant?

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Russia will be top of the agenda for the NATO summit

Discussing the implications of Brexit also likely to come up

Warsaw, Poland CNN  — 

Imagine a tiny stockade. The wolf is at the door, the sea is coming over the harbor walls and, to make matters worse, the elders are arguing.

Admittedly Europe is no coastal outpost but, for the purpose of this discussion, the analogy works.

Inside the stockade they await the arrival of their wealthy friend. He is worried. If they can’t sort their issues, his world of relative economic ease will wither.

So it is in Warsaw this weekend. President Barack Obama arrives for his 5th and final NATO Summit.

Brexit has broken the European calm, President Vladimir Putin in Russia bolsters his forces on NATO’s borders and the terror group ISIS hides in a tide of migrants washing up in Europe’s cities.

U.S. officials are billing the gathering as an historic inflection point in the alliance’s worsening relationship with Russia.

For the first time since the Berlin Wall came down a quarter century ago, the Russian bear seems restless.

The annexation of Crimea by Russia and the war waged by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine have NATO’s tiny Baltic allies quivering. Further south, NATO tensions with Russia are also on a rollercoaster, with Putin’s adventures in Syria costing him at least one jet shot down by NATO member Turkey.

Two years ago, at the last NATO Summit in Wales, action was taken, agreements made: Create a Europe-based 13,000-strong Rapid Reaction Force to tackle any Russian incursion, put military hardware close to Russia’s borders and begin heel-to-toe rotations of 40,000 troops.

Obama, along with the alliance’s 27 other leaders, plus that of tiny Montenegro, soon to become a member, will be able to tick the boxes on that part of the Wales pledge. But it won’t be enough.

Already NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has greenlighted an additional four battalions, with about 1,000 troops in each, because Russian deployments in the past two years so out-man and out-gun the troop levels agreed in Wales.

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In Warsaw, the additional battalions will get their formal approval and one each will be stationed in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland. The UK, U.S. and France will lead at least three. The numbers are modest, the idea is they would act as a tripwire force, triggering large and fast backup within days.

But before Obama gets to the nitty gritty of reinforcing the European Eastern stockade he’s first going to deal with the tensions within.

His first meetings will be with EU Chiefs, – European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk. He wants to hear how they plan to negotiate Britain’s exit from the EU and will make plain his priority of transparency, democracy and keeping global financial markets stable.

There is no bilateral meeting scheduled with outgoing British Prime Minister David Cameron but Obama’s aides are confident the two will meet and discuss the same issues: Brexit, stability, managing the transition.

This summit will see an even bigger tie up between NATO and the EU. The two organizations are already working together in the Mediterranean and Aegean seas to help save migrants from drowning and to stem the steady stream heading for Europe’s shores. The leaders will explore how this can be improved.

Tackling ISIS, Afghanistan, Ukraine and stabilizing NATO’s neighbors will all be on the agenda too.

But how this summit will likely be remembered will be the tone towards Russia and that has already been shaped before the leaders arrive. NATO’s biggest military exercises in decades is just concluding. Operation Anaconda with its 25,000 troops was a show of force and resolve that Putin can’t have missed.

Russia jets have been buzzing NATO’s ships and shores from the Baltic to the English Channel to the Black Sea. It’s building hardened defense clusters from Kaliningrad in the north to St Petersburg, Crimea and even its newest outpost in Syria – combined land sea and air missile systems designed to strike down any attacker before they get close.

Indeed the wolf is at the door, inside NATO is putting its house in order.