NATO Wales is likely to be a historic summit

NATO logo

With the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan nearly complete, at one stage it looked like the summit next week in Newport might not have been amongst the most important gatherings in the Alliance's history.

But a combination of concerns have sprung up which have led to the Prime Minister calling it a 'pivotal' summit. Meanwhile one expert said it's likely to 'go down in history' and a former Foreign Office minister told me that what's decided here in Wales could shape NATO's future.

Right at the top of the agenda will be dealing with instability in Ukraine and the increasingly tense relationship with Russia since it annexed Crimea. Ukraine's not a member of NATO but has developed good relations with the alliance.

Recent talks between Vladimir Putin and Ukraine's President Poroshenko don't seem to have eased the situation at all - but Ukraine’s president will be the only leader of a non-NATO country to be at Newport where he’ll have a separate summit meeting. It’s also likely that next week, the NATO leaders will decide to deploy troops in the Baltic states along the Russian border for the first time.

Former Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells says that move is almost a return to the Cold War that occupied NATO's attention for the first forty years of its existence.

A big question is how to tackle home-grown Islamist militants such as those from Cardiff who appeared in a recruitment video for the jihadi group Islamic State.

In the Middle East itself, the murder of the American journalist James Foley is the latest sign of the growth of Islamic State. The US carried out air strikes on I-S targets in Iraq and is looking at doing the same in Syria, having carried out air surveillance.

Any such action would involve the US and a 'coalition of the willing' rather than NATO which has avoided involvement in Syria, although in 2012 it did send patriot missiles to the border between Syria and Turkey, in order to protect that member country against any potential threat.

The uncertainty is why David Cameron called the Newport summit a 'pivotal' one:

That sense that 'NATO should adapt' is echoed by one academic at Cardiff University, who told me that the Newport summit should consider the question of what the purpose of the alliance is in the 21st Century. Dr. Christian Buerger says NATO has had significant successes dealing with maritime piracy and cyber terrorism, threats it should perhaps give more attention to in the future.

It was already clear that the Newport summit will be a big deal for Wales, whether or not you agree with it. It's also now clear that it will be a big deal for the alliance with potentially huge implications.