Cameron Pledges NATO Troops in Post-Brexit Show of Might

  • Pledges include battalion for Estonia; quick-reaction force
  • Cameron to warn Russia that NATO is ready to defend allies

NATO National Leaders Begin Summit in Warsaw

Prime Minister David Cameron heads to his first post-Brexit NATO summit pledging thousands of troops and arguing that Britain is still relevant to its continental allies even as it prepares to extricate itself from its 43-year membership in the European Union.

British commitments at the two-day summit in Warsaw starting today will include the deployment of a 500-strong battalion to Estonia, a company of 150 soldiers to Poland and a promise of 3,000 troops to lead a quick-reaction force next year, a government official told reporters in London. At a working dinner on Friday evening, Cameron will give a warning to Russia that the alliance is prepared to defend its allies against any aggression, the official said. 

“Actions speak louder than words and the U.K. is proud to be taking the lead role, deploying troops across Eastern Europe,” Cameron said in an e-mailed statement. His sentiments were echoed by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who said in remarks to open the two-day summit that Brexit won’t alter the U.K.’s standing in the 28-member bloc.

After voters backed leaving the EU in last month’s referendum, Cameron and his ministers have been at pains to stress that the country won’t retreat into isolationism.

Even though Cameron attends the summit as a lame-duck prime minister, having announced his intention to step down in the wake of the Brexit vote and overshadowed at home by a contest to choose his successor, his Defense Secretary Michael Fallon suggested this morning that the retreat from the EU increases the importance of the U.K.’s other multi-national commitments.

“The decision to leave the European Union does not mean Britain is turning its back on the world, on the contrary we will be working harder with our key allies,” he told BBC Radio 4’s “Today” show. “We’ll be doing more in NATO to compensate for our withdrawal from the European Union.”

Cameron also intends to remind fellow NATO members of their commitment to dedicate two percent of economic output to defense spending, according to the official.

Five of the alliance’s constituent states now meet this commitment -- U.S., Greece, the U.K., Estonia and Poland -- compared with three in 2014. The U.K. prime minister’s intervention on Russia will stress that NATO isn’t seeking confrontation and that it will guide its approach with the twin principles of defense and dialog.

Stoltenberg expects defense spending in Europe and Canada to rise three percent by the end of the year, he told the summit, as NATO members grapple with multiple security threats including terrorist attacks on home soil carried out by the Islamic State, the militant group that is feeding off instability in Syria. Russia’s excursions into both Ukraine and Syria will also be on the agenda.

That said, the bloc doesn’t want a “new Cold War” and will seek constructive dialogue with Russia, Stoltenberg said.

Cameron will step down in September, leaving the job of leading the country’s Brexit negotiations to the winner of a contest between Home Secretary Theresa May and Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom.

U.S. President Barack Obama, who had warned ahead of the vote of the risks of a U.K.-EU divorce, appeared to reconcile himself to the new reality. “While Brexit creates some uncertainty, our shared prosperity will continue to rest on the rock-solid foundation of NATO,” he wrote in the Financial Times. “As difficult as it will be, I am confident that the U.K. and the EU will be able to agree on an orderly transition to a new relationship.”

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