NATO Chicago Summit: Is it the beginning of a new stage?

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Following the end of the Cold War, NATO’s function was widely discussed among members. They tried to determine whether there was even a need for NATO and how plausible it would be to expand it. The answer didn’t take too long. With the leadership of the US, nations who had NATO’s continuation in their best interest saw terrorism, anti-democratic regimes and the smuggling of chemical and nuclear weapons as a way to keep and expand NATO.

Even though NATO introduced new projects and programs to promote peace and security in various regions, neither the hot zones, nor other conflict areas have secured their peace. In NATO’s 2010 Lisbon summit, new policies on the structure of the alliance and its strategic direction were introduced. The agenda for this year’s Chicago summit on May 20th and 21st included the implementation of the policies set out in the Lisbon summit and the following issues:

- NATO activities in Afghanistan;

- Economic situation following the Great Recession of 2008

- Strategic direction for Alliance activities in the short and long run;

- The “smart defense” program initiative;

- Defense and maintenance of NATO’s military force;

- Relations with Russia.

A vital aspect of the summit was the invitation of Central Asian and South Caucasian heads of state. Presidents of Central Asian countries declined the invitation while Armenia’s President refused to attend, foreseeing in the final declaration an affirmation of its violation of territorial integrity towards Azerbaijan and other CIS countries. The Final Declaration, in fact, emphasized further support for territorial integrity of Azerbaijan amid Nagorno-Karabagh, Georgia, Armenia and Moldova. In addition, it stressed the importance of resolving disputes according to principles of international law, the UN Charter and the Helsinki Final Act.  

While The US and NATO officials find the operation of the combat forces in Afghanistan successful, they can’t fully monitor the country. The global economic crisis, however, made it difficult to keep the peacekeeping forces in Afghanistan and other areas.  NATO has agreed to gradually withdraw combat forces from the country by 201l, yet it could neither secure stability in Afghanistan, nor retain its reputation as peacekeeper. Violence against civilians by NATO soldiers contradicts the peacekeeping objective of these forces. Following NATO’s withdrawal in 2014, the political and military responsibility of ensuring security in the country will be handed over to the Hamid Karzai regime. It is highly unlikely, however, that the regime will be able to handle the situation.

Following the “accidental” bombing of Pakistani troops by NATO’s Air Force and the death of 24 soldiers, Pakistan increased transit fees to Afghanistan twenty-fold and cause widespread distress. This will also create problems in the withdrawal of NATO forces in 2014. To show its frustration over the decision, President Barack Obama refused to attend a planned meeting with Pakistani president Asif Ali-Zardari.   

The Great Recession of 2008 has hindered NATO’s expansion, initiation of its missile defense and air defense systems, and implementation of new multinational programs and projects. Stating that the missile defense system is expensive, members of the Alliance are demanding the construction of air defense systems in Eastern Europe. Russia, however, stands against these plans because it claims they are a violation of its national security. To minimize the effects of the recession, NATO members prefer to fund more practical programs and lay off outdated weapon technologies. Considering that the US is NATO’s main donor and the $487 million cuts in the US budget in the past ten years, it becomes clear that NATO will be facing serious economic problems.

NATO’s plan for strategic direction in the short and long run was one of the most strictly discussed issues on the agenda. Member nations are inclined to be mindful of the Great Recession when establishing new projects or programs.  For as long as effects of the recession remain and new strategic operations are unconfirmed, NATO’s fate feeds uncertainty.

Development of the “Smart Defense” program consists of three vital components:

- Ensuring the availability of forces in critical conditions through multinational projects;

- As long as the economic crisis continues, ensuring the later establishment of multinational projects, missile defense systems, air defense systems, Ground Surveillance (AGS), and Maritime Patrol Aircrafts (MPAs); 

- Sharing information on discoveries through the Cooperative Airspace Initiative (CAI) and optimizing air-to-air refueling.

Defense and maintenance of NATO’s military force is important to the member states. For over 50 years, the alliance has ensured the political, economic and military security of its members. In order to continue this, the members must place significant emphasis on developing more optimal projects and programs. The US, NATO’s main force, is most interested in this and stressed the importance of this specific issue in the summit.

Problems with Russia, on the other hand, rest mostly on the establishment of missile defense and air defense systems in Eastern Europe because Russia is considering them a direct threat. On May 3, 2012. NATO's deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow spoke at Russian Ministry of Defense’s Conference on Missile Defense in Moscow. He stated that NATO’s objective is to find a way forward and to become full partners with Russia on missile defense. Calling for a close partnership, he emphasized that the missile defense system is not directed at Russia. However, all other members are against a partnership with Russia on missile defense. That is, Poland is strictly against it.

A spokesman for Russian Foreign Ministry Alexander Lukashevich announced that Russia was not faced with surprises in the Chicago Summit because the leaders were informed about the matters beforehand and that Russia did not share the same ideals as NATO regarding neighbor relations with Georgia’s Abkhazia and South Ossetia. He did, however, mention that Russia was willing to resolve all issues by talking. It is apparent that NATO-Russia disagreements will continue for a long time. NATO’s expansion and initiative on missile defense and air defense systems in Eastern Europe contradicts Russia’s political, economic and military objectives. These conflicts will most likely prevail over changing dynamics.

Dr. Hatam Jabbarli,

Head of Eurasian Security and Strategic Research Center (ESSRC)



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