CEPS: The NATO Washington Summit: Reinforcing NATO, supporting Ukraine, strengthening Europe

by | Jun 18, 2024

(17 June 2024 – CEPS, Brussels)


  • Rachel Ellehuus, US Secretary of Defense Representative in Europe and the Defense Advisor for the U.S. Mission to NATO
  • Angus Lapsley, Assistant Secretary General for Defence Policy and Planning, NATO
  • Minna Ålander, Research Fellow, Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA)
  • Harry Nedelcu, Senior Director for Geopolitics, Rasmussen Global


  • James Moran, Senior Associate Research Fellow, CEPS

James Moran opened the panel about the NATO Washington Summit which will take place from the 9th to the 11th of July. Sweden will attend for the first time as a member, and NATO could finally invite Ukraine to accession talks.

Rachel Ellehuus reminded us that 2024 marks the 75th anniversary of the creation of NATO which will be reflected in the Summit. But the occasion is not just about celebration. Ukraine is now among the top priorities of the US besides responsibility sharing, and deterrence and defence. Since 2014, NATO has been undergoing a significant strengthening in the last field which took the organisation “back to basics” such as Article 5. But an even stronger defence needs to be adopted to the current cyber and hybrid challenges. The organisation has to fill the gaps after the two-year underinvestment during the Covid pandemic. The Defence Production Action Plan agreed in Vilnius helps to create closer connections with industry, as this aspect has become more significant. At the same time, NATO has to keep up with the transformation agenda. It is important to set regulations and minimum requirements while being vigilant about incidents of sabotage and retaining edge over adversaries.

As Washington is the host of this year’s summit, and it is also an election year, the US has to showcase the progress that has been made. According to Ellehuus, they have a good story to tell the world, taking into account cash, capabilities and contributions. Concerning Ukraine, Ellehuus addressed that it feels like the country is already a member, since it has a seat at the table. NATO’s support for Ukraine is set in the Comprehensive Assistance Package, but it is not enough to get closer to the objective. NATO still has to work with Ukraine on the defence reform and capacity building. Defence ministers have also agreed on a new NATO security assistance for Ukraine. A lot of meaningful work is going on, but not always under a single umbrella. Ellehuus highlighted the need of rationalizing the support. She thinks that an invite to accession talks would be more of an artificial step with symbolic value, it would not carry the same weight as accession talks with the EU.

Angus Lapsley compared the NATO Washington Summit to an iceberg, because a lot of the substance does not come through media reporting, but underneath the surface, there is still a profound transformation. Lapsley insisted that NATO and the EU have to be prepared for an open conflict. Most people always expected Russia to provoke underneath the psychological threshold, but in 2022, this has changed. There was a fundamental shift, and now we have to concentrate on what volume of forces we need to be able to defend ourselves. Unfortunately, “the other side sets the perimeters”. Lapsley underlined three essential things: deep military transformation, role of civilian authorities, and deterrence.

Concerning the first, he said that we have to figure out how we can keep going on in a fight in the long run regarding ammunition, scale, medical support etc. NATO needs to have forces ready to move anytime and invest in capabilities they do not currently have. Here comes the role of civilian authorities. They should be resilient enough to support the forces in cyber and physical security, while providing water, shelter etc. But for that, some mechanism structures need to be set up, not only in frontline countries. Last, but not least, Lapsley emphasized that the main job is deterrence – to prevent fights. There are layers to it, the first being cyber, the second conventional defence. Regarding the EU, Lapsley stated that duplication will not help, so the EU should stick to stabilization and crisis management. The defence industry role that the EU is developing could be helpful, but the budget is quite small. So, what would benefit both the EU and NATO most is a better cooperation.

Minna Ålander talked about the Finnish perspective, reminding us that this will be the second summit for Finland as a member. Due to the extensive bilateral cooperation between Finland and Sweden, the latter’s situation casted a shadow on the former’s first summit, so Sweden’s accession was a big relief for Finland. Ålander thinks that Finland “managed to hit the right moment” to join, because the country’s perspective was finally perfectly aligned with NATO. From the Finnish point of view, the border with Russia and the Arctic are the most important issues. By European standards – because of the “low bar” as Ålander put it –, the country can be considered a “military superpower”. But Finland does not have nuclear deterrence, that is why it wanted to be part of the one NATO provides. The country’s main concern is related to that as well: the sustainable credibility of US deterrence.

Harry Nedelcu declared that in the case of Ukraine, we should take a step back and ask the fundamental question: are we doing enough? Enough for Ukraine to deliver a victory? Or at least enough to lay the foundations for peace talks? The answer in both cases would be no. Russia continues with brutal attacks which is partly the result of our hesitation. While Russia escalates, NATO seems to do too little too late. Vladimir Putin actually thinks he can outlast us, he is not interested in peace talks. Nedelcu had three recommendations. First, issue an invitation to Ukraine. It does not mean instant membership, but NATO could set a target date and actually define the conditions Ukraine needs to fulfil. Second, change Putin’s calculations and seek an end to this war. And third, limit the perimeters of the war. This could be done by in-country trainings and missions, unfreezing and using assets, and supporting the air defence. The last one would be crucial to shift resources in Ukraine.

During the Q&A section, Speakers agreed that Turkey is rather a weak link in NATO, even if it is geopolitically significant. Nedelcu insisted that inviting Ukraine might be risky, but doing nothing is risky too. Lapsley assumes that with the NATO-Ukraine Council, we are walking down the accession road anyway. Ålander declared that the issue of sending troops to Ukraine causes frustration in Finland. Ellehuus shed some light on NATO’s good relationship with the IP4 – Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand. According to her, it is important in any partnership for NATO to follow the lead of the partner.

You can watch the event here:

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