Trident Juncture 2018, one of NATO’s largest  exercises in recent years, got underway on October 25 in and around Norway in the context of a heightened security environment in Europe. With renewed Russian assertiveness on both sides of the Atlantic, including interference in democratic elections, the use of a chemical nerve agent on British soil, targeted cyber-attacks, and violations of Allied airspace only in the past year, tensions are high. Against this backdrop, NATO is taking stock of its collective defense and deterrence posture in Europe.
Despite the high-profile acrimony over defense spending and worries about the United States’ commitment to NATO, the July summit in Brussels showed that the Alliance can still project strength on its eastern flank. The summit declaration included numerous programs, initiatives, and projects to strengthen the Alliance against Russian aggression. When it comes to addressing challenges in NATO’s south, such as destabilizing migration flows, terrorism, and general instability in the region, however, the Alliance has often struggled to demonstrate the same sense of strategic focus.

And yet, this year in Brussels, NATO planners took several steps towards strengthening the Alliance’s southern strategy. The extension of the commitment in Afghanistan and launch of the training mission in Iraq grabbed headlines, but another southern initiative was one of the quiet successes of the summit.
NATO must overcome two forms of discord—US-European and intra-European—in order to ensure the future health and effectiveness of the Alliance. It is not enough to hope for mere platitudes of unity at NATO’s summit in Brussels on July 11 and 12, sentiments that European leaders may not receive from the US president.

At last year’s “mini-summit,” US President Donald J. Trump publicly berated European allies for not spending 2 percent of GDP on defense—a goal that the allies agreed at their Wales Summit in 2014 to meet “within a decade.” This year, the path toward a successful summit appears equally unharmonious.
In a few days, US President Donald J. Trump will meet with his fellow heads of state and government from across the NATO alliance in Brussels, Belgium, and there is widespread concern that it will once again be a meeting where the United States is scornful of its allies and partners. Some even fear that this may be the beginning of the end of NATO and the bond between the United States and Europe. The flames have been fanned further by the recent G-7 meeting which ended in acrimony between the US president and the other leaders, the announced Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki a few days after the NATO summit, and whispers that the United States may pull its troops out of Germany in the coming years.

Here’s what you need to know ahead of nationwide elections on March 4

Italians will go to the polls on March 4 in one of the most significant elections in Europe this year. Reflecting the tense political climate across the continent, hot-button issues such as immigration and border security have dominated the debate in one of the most divisive general election campaigns Italy has seen in recent years.

Italy’s notoriously complicated electoral system has long made the country’s elections interesting to watch, but several factors add chaos to intrigue this year. The 2018 elections have given rise to both new and old Italian political personalities—from the emergence of the insurgent, anti-establishment Five Star Movement or the comeback of four-time prime minister and media mogul Silvio Berlusconi. Regardless of who emerges from the political fray in control of the country, any outcome will have wide-ranging consequences for Italy’s future.
The annual Munich Security Conference (MSC) which kicks off today may be a veritable who’s who in global security, but the conference is far more than just hobnobbing among the nearly five hundred senior security and defense officials in attendance. Frequently the MSC has been a bellwether for things to come in the global security landscape. Speakers have also used the forum to make headlines that have echoed far beyond Munich. It was here in 2007 that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin publicly rejected the western-led international order and pushed back, hard, on NATO’s continued enlargement and US-led interventions in the Middle East and elsewhere.

The 2018 Munich Security Conference opened on February 16 against a backdrop of a global order under increasing stress, both Russia and China challenging the international rules of the road, the possibility of another Korean War, continued turbulence in the Middle East, and uncertainty about the future of the US global role. There are also whispers about the return of great power war, something unthinkable just a few years ago. The title of this year’s Munich Security Conference report, released ahead of the event, perhaps put it best: To the Brink – and Back?

This article is part of a series reflecting on the first year of the Trump administration. 

US President Donald J. Trump’s public skepticism toward multilateral organizations has created uncertainty among traditional US allies. Washington’s commitment to NATO, in particular, has been called into question in the first year of the administration. Despite critical rhetoric and ongoing concerns over allied burden-sharing, the Trump administration, alongside European allies, continues to take concrete steps to bolster transatlantic security.
Lingering uncertainty regarding US support for NATO and burden-sharing among allies has raised questions as to the future of the NATO nuclear-sharing arrangement. While US President Donald J. Trump’s reaffirmation of the US commitment to Article 5, NATO’s mutual defense clause, may have temporarily placated allies, intense feelings of insecurity among the European allies remain. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, taking an unusually strong stance, gave voice to these sentiments: “The time in which [Europe] can rely fully on others—they are somewhat over.” With these remarks, Merkel offered her answer to a question that has been asked repeatedly since Trump was elected president of the United States: Can Europe count on its ally across the Atlantic to come to its defense when needed?
Russia’s large-scale military exercise to be conducted in September can provide critical insight for NATO allies seeking to improve their readiness posture against an increasingly revanchist Russia, according to an Estonian defense official.

“Russians train exactly as they intend to fight, thus Zapad will give up ample information on their military and political thinking as it is right now,” Kristjan Prikk, undersecretary for defense policy at Estonia’s Ministry of Defense, said at the Atlantic Council on July 11. According to Prikk, “we don’t consider this year’s Zapad exercise in itself to be a direct threat to us [NATO] or a cover for an attack, but we have to keep in mind that the Russians have the nasty habit of hiding their actual military endeavors behind exercises.”

“We have to be calm, vigilant, flexible,” in the months leading up to and following Zapad 2017, said Prikk.

In September, Russia will conduct a joint military exercise with Belarus—Zapad. Based on initial indications and past Zapads, the exercise, which will take place in Belarus, will assess the readiness of Russia’s military across many forces—land, sea, and air—and test a range of capabilities—not only conventional, but also cyber and nuclear, within a particular set of scenarios. This will be the first Zapad exercise since 2013. Zapad, which is also the Russian word for “west,” will take place against the backdrop of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, ongoing war in Ukraine, military intervention in Syria, and meddling in the US and French presidential elections.
At first glance, Russian actions since the 2014 annexation of Crimea appear to signal a resurgence of power in the international system. Increases in military spending, forays into the Middle East, and a foreign policy punching above its weight have all served to remind the world that Russia maintains influence on the global stage.

However, behind the Cold War-levels of military activity and violations of international laws are fundamental issues which will plague Russia going forward. Demographic struggles have stricken the state since World War II, commodity price fluctuations and sanctions have crippled economic output, and the current defense spending trends are unsustainable. Against the backdrop of harsh economic reality, the illusion of Russian resurgence can only be maintained for so long, and NATO policymakers should take note.