NATO’s Maritime Future

Can NATO stem the maritime decline?

[Opinion] NATO’s Maritime Future

By Lt. Cmdr. Mark Lawrence, USN

The transatlantic alliance successfully navigated some rough seas in 2014. A year that began without any allied consensus on NATO’s proper direction in the world looks set to conclude with unanimity in the face of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s foray into Ukraine. Last month’s NATO summit in Wales especially seemed to prove that Europe still can give a good account of itself when necessary. Yet the hard work of follow-through on all the political commitments made there remains to be done, and the fundamental question raised by Russia’s belligerence — whether NATO will endure as a viable military entity — warrants close scrutiny in 2015. In no case more so than NATO’s maritime domain, where the Ukraine crisis prompted only slight adjustments at the same time it highlighted the need for a major course change.

As is the case with successful NATO summits, there was something for everyone to like in the one completed a month ago amid the backdrop of fevered U.S. diplomacy to forge a new coalition for action in Iraq and Syria. Allies demonstrated resolve against Russian aggression, which was not a given as recently as late August until France finally halted its planned sale of amphibious assault ships to Moscow. Allied policymakers will advertise the heads of state and government pledge to arrest the decline in NATO member defense spending, and rightly so when one considers how dire the trends in Europe looked to be on track for the foreseeable future. Finally, NATO approved a ‘Readiness Action Plan’ by which the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (SACEUR) can expect more responsive tools at his disposal the next time allies require strategic assurance or crisis response.

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