March 30, 2018

NATO's 2018 Summit

Key Summit Deliverables and Five Initiatives Where the U.S. Can Make a Difference

By Julianne Smith, Jim Townsend and Rachel Rizzo

On July 11–12 2018, NATO’s 29 members will convene at NATO Headquarters in Brussels for the first full-length summit since Warsaw in 2016. NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg has laid out the following summit goals: further strengthen the transatlantic bond, build on NATO’s work with partner nations to fight terrorism, strengthen NATO’s Black Sea presence, and step up efforts against cyberattacks and hybrid threats.

The Transatlantic Security Team at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) proposes the U.S. focus on five initiatives in these Summit areas to strengthen the Alliance. 

Create a More Agile, Ready, and Deployable NATO

  • Enhance the mobility of NATO forces, especially to surge forces to Europe
  • Strengthen the readiness of NATO forces
  • Reform the NATO command structure and add two new NATO commands on maritime and logistics to strengthen agility and readiness
  • Speed up NATO decision-making

On burden sharing, the United States should continue to push NATO allies to meet the 2 percent of GDP defense spending target. This year, eight more NATO members will meet that target and defense spending across the Alliance continues to rise; 4.3 percent in 2017, 3.3 percent in 2016. 

Strengthen NATO’s Counterterrorism Efforts

  • Transition all Iraqi security-related institutional capacity building efforts and classroom training to NATO over one year. As past conflicts show, the importance of developing capable, accountable, and effective security institutions is paramount. NATO can do much more in this regard.
  • Create two to four NATO mobile training teams that can travel to Iraqi bases to train the Iraqi military in non-combat areas: counter-IED efforts, military medicine, and bomb disposal.
  • Launch a new EU-NATO training course for Iraqi paramilitary forces. NATO-nations’ paramilitary trainers could work with the EU’s Gendarmerie Force to help develop an Iraqi paramilitary force that can protect Iraqi rebuilding efforts and prevent ISIL from re-establishing itself in recently liberated areas.
  • Establish a new NATO CT Coordination Center at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe to de-conflict NATO and EU counterterrorism related activities across the MENA region and throughout Africa, and develop new NATO or NATO/EU initiatives. 

These initiatives should be open to the participation of NATO partners, such as Georgia, and will require some U.S. engagement because allies are reticent to take part in any effort that is perceived as the U.S. “farming out” certain tasks. In turn, all NATO allies should recognize that new CT efforts will require long-term monetary commitments and force protection requirements.

Harmonize EU-NATO Defense Planning

  • Create a standing NATO-EU coordination body that meets at the appropriate times during the defense planning processes of both institutions to review three key phases of defense planning to ensure they are harmonized: 

    • Development of the capability requirements of each institution
    • Development of the capability requests made to nations
    • Determination of the gaps in capability and plans to fill the gaps  

Such a formal review will help harmonize EU and NATO defense planning processes and avoid duplication and competition between the institutions while focusing NATO and EU allies on a single set of priorities for both organizations.

Strengthen NATO’s Posture and Capabilities in New Domains

  • Recognize space as a domain of operations.
  • Task the Alliance to draft a new cyber doctrine to clarify its response to cyberattacks below the Article 5 threshold. NATO needs a standing capability to hunt down those who use cyber to attack it, expose from where the attacks emanate, hold to account the people responsible, and respond to any attack should the allies so choose. 
  • Create a mechanism for harnessing the national cyber capabilities, both defensive and offensive, of member states for joint operations as appropriate. NATO should integrate cyber into its planning and operations.
  • Adapt NATO’s maritime posture to include the vulnerability of undersea cables and the threat that cables could be cut by an adversary.  

On the Margins of the NATO Summit: Launch New Black Sea Maritime Initiative

  • The Black Sea maritime nations (Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia, Ukraine) could announce at the NATO Summit a regional maritime program with the support of the U.S., but led by a Black Sea “framework nation,” to improve their navies’ ability to exercise maritime domain awareness. This could be done through training, exercises and upgrades to their naval vessels, in collaboration with U.S. European Command.
  • The U.S. could announce at the Summit that it will seek from Congress an FMF grant package of $50 million annually for 5 years to help Black Sea Navies participate in this initiative, conditional on matching funds from Black Sea nations and contributions from allies. NATO can be a cooperating partner.


  • Julianne Smith

    Former Adjunct Senior Fellow, Transatlantic Security Program

    Julianne (“Julie”) Smith is a contributing editor to Foreign Policy, where she coedits “Shadow Government.” She is also a senior advisor at WestExec Advisors, an adjunct senio...

  • Jim Townsend

    Adjunct Senior Fellow, Transatlantic Security Program

    James Joye Townsend Jr. is an adjunct senior fellow in the CNAS Transatlantic Security Program. After eight years as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (DASD) for European ...

  • Rachel Rizzo

    Adjunct Fellow, Transatlantic Security Program

    Rachel Rizzo is an adjunct fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), working in the Transatlantic Security Program. Her research focuses on European security, N...

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