While NATO may be quite capable of congratulating itself at times, under the harsh light of the real world, the cracks show. At the same time, there are plenty of reasons to remain upbeat ahead of this week's NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithania, security expert Edward Lucas writes in a piece which appeared on the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) website.
This could figuratively be reflected in what summit attendees might order at one of Vilnius Old Town's many cafes, restaurants and bars – coffee (Lithuanian: Kava, or when ordering, kavos) if hard work is needed, or champagne (Šampanas) if the mood is more celebratory.
Over the past three decades, Lucas writes, the major western countries that in effect run NATO systematically underestimated the Russian threat, failed to deter the Kremlin in Ukraine ahead of the first phase of the current war starting, in 2014, doing so again in the run-up to the full-scale invasion, in February 2022.
Over the past 500 days and counting, they have failed to supply weapons of the quantity and quality needed to ensure Ukrainian victory, and the ensuing, colossal human, financial and environmental costs are shameful, Lucas argues.
Granted, Ukraine is not a member of NATO as things stand – but that is not Ukraine's fault; botched diplomacy at and after the 2008 Bucharest summit consigned Ukraine, and also Georgia, invaded by Russia in summer of that year, to the danger zone.
Moreover, Lucas notes, nobody has apologized publicly for this.
In any case, Lucas writes, accession for Ukraine and Georgia might not even have appreciably improved their safety in the immediate term – the alliance's approach to its Eastern Flank still seems to be one of "NATO-lite", as exemplified by the "tripwire" nature of the enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) battlegroups located in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Even then, the Baltic states are safer than at any other time in their history, Lucas argues.
While the thinking is transitioning from the earlier, much-panned vision of losing territory to a putative Russian invasion early on, only to later retake it, to one of defending every inch, this will naturally require much larger deployments, training etc., while bringing NATO and in particular U.S. military might to bear against Russia would require the political will to do so in Washington – though much that has been coming from the Biden administration and the bipartisan consensus in Congress so far gives cause for optimism here.
All this means the mood in the Lithuanian capital this week will be upbeat, with references to the alliance as being "obsolete" (Donald Trump, 2016), engaging in "saber rattling" (German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, also in 2016, when he was foreign minister) and, perhaps most notoriously, "brain dead" (Emmanuel Macron, 2019) seemingly rather obsolete episodes in themselves.
Ultimately, while there is much to be concerned about, military budgets are rising, new defense plans will be agreed upon in Vilnius, and the alliance is back in business - meaning šampanas may be on the menu after all.
The original, full piece by Edward Lucas is available on the CEPA website here.
CEPA says on its website that its main aims are to ensure a strong and enduring transatlantic alliance rooted in democratic values and principles with strategic vision, foresight, and impact and, among other goals, to build networks of future leaders versed in Atlanticism.
Edward Lucas is a columnist with The Times and is a former senior editor of The Economist. He is the prospective Liberal Democrat candidate for the Cities of London and Westminster constituency, at the next U.K. general election. He is perhaps most well-known in Estonia for becoming the country's first ever e-resident, when the program launched nearly a decade ago.
Editor: Andrew Whyte