Poland – Friday, 8 July witnessed the gathering of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) leaders in Warsaw, discussing increasing the alliance’s presence and defenses in its eastern flank along with Poland’s recent political actions that have raised concerns about the state of democracy in the nation’s institutions.

NATO representatives agreed to increase armed presence in the alliance’s eastern region. President Obama announced that the country’s new armored brigade will have its headquarters in the Polish capital from which it will make rotations in the area for a set period of nine months. The Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, echoed a need for increased defenses and stated the nation would deploy 450 soldiers along with armored vehicles to Latvia.

All NATO decisions are made by consensus, after discussion and consultation among member countries. Image Credit: NATO

Furthermore, the alliance called for a formal control of a missile defense radar in Turkey and American-built and run missile interceptors in Romania, in an effort to strengthen NATO cooperation. This boost in military defenses in Poland and the Baltic states serves as a new deterrent following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

According to NATO officials, their latest military-related agreements were made with the intention to help protect Europe by being able to knock shorter-range Iranian ballistics out of the sky. However, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his doubt and viewed the decisions as a provocation.

The making of a new Cold War?

The Baltic region has felt the greatest military buildup between the West and East since the Cold War. On the one hand, western forces agreed to deploy one thousand multinational troops to its eastern flank, which includes Poland, Romania, and Lithuania. On the other, Russia continues to show significant interest in the region where it has stationed its naval hub armed with nuclear-capable missiles in Kaliningrad, taken from German hands after the Second World War and placed under Soviet control.

The geographical placement of the deployments has left the Baltic states feeling surrounded. Although NATO has defenses in Poland and its base in Lithuania, the three states are still wedged between Kaliningrad and mainland Russia. Also, Lithuanian leaders say they are worried about Russia’s  power in Kaliningrad, home of the Federation’s anti-aircraft system that has the potential to block NATO air access to half of Poland and most of the Baltic states.

The fear can be linked to the incident that occurred in April this year when the USS Donald Cook, a US guided-missile destroyer, was on its way to Klaipeda port, Lithuania when Russian fighter jets made a low-altitude pass at the ship that US officials deemed “unprofessional” and “provocative”. The following day, two KA27 Kamov Helix helicopters rotated around the ship taking photos in what officials called a “simulated attack profile.”

Moreover, there have been beliefs among Lithuanian leaders that a Russian military crew may have landed in a peaceful fishing settlement as part of an exercise. However, the incident that is believed to have taken place before 2015 was not reported to NATO, nor do some senior officials believe it happened.

During a visit to London late last year, Lithuanian Defence Minister Juozas Olekas stated that the Russian President’s support for the establishment of an airbase in Belarus was an effort for the Federation to show its power. However, the former Soviet state managed to persuade Russia to supply it with arms but not to build an airbase; although the Belarusian military did admit to four Russian aircraft having stationed in Baranovichi.

Simultaneously, France is one of the nations who feel that Russia should not be perceived as an enemy but rather an ally. French President Francois Hollande has urged that communication lines remain open with Moscow.

Obama concerned about diminishing Polish democracy

Right-wing Law and Justice Party, who won Polish elections last October, has appointed five new judges to the country’s Constitutional Tribunal and refused to recognize those chosen by the previous government. This decision contradicts one of the golden democratic rules of the separation of executive and judicial power and according to the Washington Post, European officials claim that the move threatens the rule of law.

The Polish government also undermined the right to freedom of expression when it forced public broadcasters to adopt a pro-government line. Amidst the nation’s fellow NATO members’ worries, Polish government reassures that it is not in opposition to democracy but rather fulfilling the will of the people.

It would appear that there is a crumbling unity among NATO states that the Summit sought to address. The uncertainty surrounding Britain, one of NATO’s most influential members, after the June referendum to leave the European Union is another possible sign of the alliance’s vulnerability. However, US President downplayed Brexit’s impact and stated that the divorce happens swiftly and cleanly.

Source: Washington Post