NATO Demurs on Creation of Black Sea Naval Force

NATO put off a decision on creating an alliance Black Sea naval force, which had been promoted by several alliance members as a means of beefing up the NATO presence on its southeastern border with Russia.

The alliance, as expected, agreed to set up a multinational land brigade based in Romania, which is intended to “contribute to the Alliance’s strengthened deterrence and defence posture, situational awareness, and peacetime demonstration of NATO’s intent to operate without constraint” and “provide a strong signal of support to regional security,” according to the final communique issued by the alliance at the conclusion of its summit on Saturday in Warsaw.

But as for increasing sea or air activities around the Black Sea, NATO agreed to keep discussing: “Options for a strengthened NATO air and maritime presence will be assessed.” It continued: “We will continue to address the implications for NATO of developments in the region and take them into account in the Alliance’s approaches and policies. We will continue to support, as appropriate, regional efforts by the Black Sea littoral states aimed at ensuring security and stability.  We will also strengthen our dialogue and cooperation with Georgia and Ukraine in this regard.”

The issue of an increased NATO presence on the sea will be discussed at a meeting of alliance defense ministers in October, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said at a press conference. “We … decided to ask our military planners to provide advice for our defense ministers in October to look into whether we can or how we can increase our presence not on land, because that will be provided with a brigade, but in the air and at sea,” he said. “And several of the nations addressed the need for an enhanced presence at sea and in the air but we will be more concrete about that at our defence ministerial meeting in October.”

Alliance unity on the idea of some sort of Black Sea fleet had fractured in the run-up to the summit: Bulgaria’s prime minister criticized the plan, and Turkey’s rapprochement with Russia called into question Ankara’s readiness to take on new initiatives against Moscow.

It’s not clear what Turkey’s position is now on the idea of the alliance fleet. The Wall Street Journal reported, citing NATO officials, that Turkey “has recently dropped some long standing objections including … supporting an alliance mission in the Black Sea.” But Erdogan’s public remarks in Warsaw evinced little interest in Black Sea security; just two months ago he had complained to NATO that the sea was becoming a “Russian lake.”

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, in remarks made in Bulgaria during the summit, reiterated his opposition to the fleet, and called for the Black Sea to become demilitarized. “A zone without military, without submarines, without ships, because that’s a zone in which we expect to extract gas, where all countries have tourism, and greater trade is possible. What would missiles, ships and submarines bring to the welfare of our people?”

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