This week Poland will host President Obama and twenty European heads of state. The Warsaw summit presents an important opportunity to reinforce consensus and joint action in the realms of security, economic cooperation, and the promotion of democracy in and beyond Europe. The meeting will set the tone for Poland’s approaching EU Presidency and is a rare transatlantic gathering of NATO Allies and partners a year prior to the 2012 NATO summit.
The summit should be used to resuscitate the process of completing Europe as a continent whole, undivided, democratic and free. It follows last week’s Weimar meeting of the foreign ministers of Poland, France and Germany who called for tough sanctions against the repressive Lukashenko regime in Belarus. That call was complemented the next day by tough language against Lukashenko by the Foreign Ministers of Poland, Germany, and Russia. Both meetings underscored the constructive influence Western and Central Europe can have on the continent’s eastern periphery.
That message to Belarus should be reinforced at the Warsaw summit and complemented by a carefully crafted message to Ukraine’s President Yanukovich who will also be attending. He needs to hear first hand that while many do envision Ukraine’s integration into the key Euro-Atlantic institutions, the authoritarian character of his government has only undercut those prospects, including his own stated preference for EU membership.
For President Obama, his first visit to Warsaw provides another venue through which to continue the warming of relations of US-Poland relations after a cool period that followed his mismanaged rollout of his transatlantic missile defense plans. It is also a chance to chip away at Central European skepticism about US commitment to their region’s security. The proposed stationing in Poland of a small US Air Force ground element to provide logistical and planning support for rotational deployments of US military aircraft, including F-16s, would expand the opportunities for not just US-Poland, but also regional exercises. This would enhance NATO’s preparations for out of area operations as well as the credibility of its Article V contingency plans. All of this would be fully consistent with Alliance’s recently promulgated Strategic Concept.
On the economic front, energy security remains a key priority for Central Europe, a region that due to history remains largely separate from Western Europe’s integrated energy market. Lacking Western Europe’s vast network of crisscrossing pipelines and multiple sources of energy, Central Europe attains nearly all its oil and gas from Russia via a handful of pipelines. The Warsaw summit will surely highlight Poland’s vast shale gas deposits, but should also be leveraged to foster energy infrastructure projects that will diversify Central Europe’s oil and gas sources, integrate it into the European energy market, and increase its resilience to oil and gas shocks, including through the development of coordinated strategic reserves.
High on the Warsaw Summit agenda is how Central Europe and the United States can work together to support the Jasmin revolutions that have swept across North Africa, the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. Central European nations, having shed the yoke of authoritarian Soviet occupation, have many lessons to share regarding the challenges of political and economic transformation. While it is clearly useful to inventory and coordinate the sharing of these experiences, leaders convening in Warsaw need to communicate that the West seeks to support, rather than guide or lead, the efforts of those driving the remarkable and often still uncertain Arab Spring.
Equally important is the need to incorporate Turkey into these efforts. Care will be needed to ensure that the initiatives discussed in Warsaw do not repeat the snub to Ankara caused by French President Sarkozy’s short-sighted decision to not include the Turks in his initial meeting to coordinate transatlantic action regarding Libya’s civil war. If there is a missing participant in the Warsaw, it is Turkey, the European country and longstanding member of NATO with the greatest insight into the culture and politics of the Islamic world.
These priorities of transatlantic security, economic growth, and the promotion of democracy will be highlighted again during the second week of June, in Wroclaw, Poland. There, the city and the Atlantic Council of the United States will co-host the second annual Wroclaw Global Forum that brings together business, political and national security leaders from the transatlantic community to discuss the how Central Europe can serve as a catalyst of actions serving shared interests. Indeed, the attendance of the 2008 Republican nominee for US President at the Wroclaw forum just ten days after the visit of President Obama underscores the bipartisan vitality of the US commitment to Poland and Central Europe.
Ian Brzezinski, a former US deputy assistant secretary of defense for Europe and NATO Policy is a resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and leads the Brzezinski Group, a consulting firm. This essay originally appeared in Polska The Times.