NATO’s credibility under a cloud ahead of summit
BRUSSELS: Its potential role in Iraq stunted by political divisions and its peace operation in Afghanistan hobbled by a lack of military forces, NATO holds a summit in Istanbul next week with its credibility under a cloud.
The summit was originally planned to coincide with the accession in April of seven formerly communist states from eastern Europe, and so its postponement left the alliance with a problem of finding “deliverables” to trumpet two months later.
“This summit has no coherence, we will be celebrating our enlargement for the fifth time,” joked one senior NATO diplomat. NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told a news conference on Thursday that the 26 leaders would have a full agenda in Istanbul, one that proves the Cold War alliance is undergoing fundamental change to tackle new security threats far beyond the borders it was set up to defend 55 years ago. There may be few signs at the summit of the acrimony that rocked the transatlantic alliance before last year’s US-led Iraq war. “Everyone is walking on eggs,” said one NATO envoy.
Nevertheless, resistance from France and Germany to a robust role in Iraq will leave NATO virtually sidelined, as it was when Washington responded to the September 11 attacks on U.S cities in 2001 with a “coalition of the willing” in Afghanistan. Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, whose interim government is due to be sworn in when the US-led occupation ends on June 30, sent a letter to de Hoop Scheffer this week asking the alliance to help in training the country’s security forces.
The summiteers are likely to agree on that task, but it will fall far short of the boots-on-the-ground role Washington had envisaged for the alliance as recently as April. Daniel Hamilton, editor of a new book on NATO’s future, writes that if Washington comes to believe that NATO is not relevant to its most serious security challenges then US officials will treat it as “the 10th planet beyond Pluto, “interesting to behold yet quite distant from earthly concerns”.
“This view is already espoused within senior echelons of the the current administration,” said Hamilton, a US academic and former deputy assistant secretary of state for European Affairs. Yves Boyer of France’s Foundation for Strategic Research argues in the book that the main issue is not whether NATO can evolve into an effective organisation but whether alliance leaders can find common ground in their views of the world.
However, there is a question mark over whether the alliance can become a useful tool for post-September 11 challenges such as terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Most European allies have stagnant or declining defence budgets, and in many cases they have not reconfigured their forces from a static Cold War posture to meet the requirements of crisis operations far from home. NATO will announce at Istanbul that its 6,400-strong peacekeeping force in Kabul will take command of four or five military-civilian reconstruction teams in northern Afghanistan and deploy roughly 1,200 troops for September’s elections.
But this came only after de Hoop Scheffer went around the nations “with a begging bowl” for costly equipment such as helicopters, and is still far from NATO’s original aims. The secretary-general will call on allies in Istanbul to consider ways of matching political commitments and military resources such as common funding for crucial capabilities. The allies will also unveil a package of measures at Istanbul to strengthen their defences against terrorism.
And, seeking a foothold in a region where the threat of instability is perhaps greatest, the alliance will offer to turn its stilted “dialogue” with Mediterranean countries into a genuine partnership and open contacts with Gulf states. reuters