Tuesday, 2 December 2008

NATO Foreign Ministers Meet

NATO Foreign Ministers are meeting, both in the North Atlantic Council, and in other bodies with colleagues from beyond the Alliance. The meetings take place in Brussels today and tomorrow.

Croatia and Albania, who are due to join the Alliance at the Strasbourg-Kehl Summit, play a special role in the meeting, not yet part of the Alliance but 'Invitees', they get to sit in on everything.

Things kick off with a working lunch of the Mediterranean Dialogue including NATO invitees Albania and Croatia. Ministers will examine ways to deepen political and practical co-operation.

Next comes a session of the North Atlantic Council with invitees, where Ministers will make a first assessment of the progress made in the framework of intensive engagement with Ukraine and Georgia. They will also discuss relations with Russia.

Tomorrow, , the Foreign Ministers with Invitees will take a look at Allied operations, especially the mission in Afghanistan. The session will provide a good opportunity to assess the evolving situation in Afghanistan and review progress in implementing the comprehensive strategic political-military plan, as well as to discuss potential support to the upcoming elections. It is likely that the the thoughts of President-Elect Obama's pick for National Security Advisor, former NATO Supreme Commander General James Jones, will weigh heavy on the meeting. He has said that NATO 'isn't winning' in Afghanistan, and supports the Obama 'troop surge' proposal.

Ministers will also look at developments in Kosovo and their implications for NATO’s longer-term engagement in the Western Balkans. At the same time, they will consider the growing challenge of piracy and NATO’s contribution to the international effort to fight this challenge. The hijacking of a Saudi oil tanker while NATO ships were patrolling off Africa to prevent such episodes can only be seen as an embarrassment for the Alliance, however much official spokesman protest the mission was only to escort World Food Programme ships. This semi-success, semi-failure does nothing to strengthen the hand of those who want NATO to become a global security provider in the 21st century.

The NATO-Georgia Commission will then hold its first ever meeting in Foreign Ministers format, with Invitees. This will provide an opportunity to exchange views with the Georgian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mrs. Tkeshelashvili, about the evolving security situation in the region, and about Georgia’s progress related to its membership’s aspirations. US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has said she now favours unfreezing some cooperation with Russia, in particular dialogue in the NATO-Russia Council, although she does not want military-to-military engagement while Russian troops are still dug in on Georgian soil.

A meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission with Invitees, all at the level of Foreign Ministers, will be held afterwards to review with Ukrainian Foreign Minister, Mr. Ogryzko, the progress made in the framework of decisions taken at the Bucharest Summit. Ukraine is a thorny problem for NATO. The US (including Barack Obama) wants to admit the Ukraine to NATO membership. Russia is fiercely opposed. More trickily, so is the majority of the Ukraine's population. The Ukraine hasn't helped its case as it has allowed clandestine arms sales at cut rates to Georgia, in contravention of Ukrainian law and to the outrage of most in Ukraine's parliament.

Finally, not officially on the agenda, but undoubtedly a major topic of discussion, is the NATO Summit. There will be other preparatory ministerial meetings between now and April, but talks have already started. It is likely, but not entirely certain, that NATO will decide to review its Strategic Concept beginning in Strasbourg. Source do say, however, that there is opposition and that key questions will make the process difficult. The most difficult questions is whether, as new Eastern European members believe, NATO should concentrate on defending itself from Russia; or whether, as the US and UK would like, NATO should stretch its mandate to missions far beyond Europe, as in Afghanistan. Also, the role of nuclear weapons in NATO strategy presents difficulties. but some believe that Ministers will agree in advance of Strategic Concept negotiations to leave the 'nuclear paragraphs' of the current concept intact, as any changes are too fraught with difficulty.

We'll see what the next two days brings.

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