Friday, 6 March 2009

Poland Challenges US Vision for NATO

Polish Defence Minister Bogdan Klich said yesterday in Warsaw that Poland is concerned that in the past ten years NATO placed too strong an emphasis on military missions (in the Balkans and then Afghanistan), forgetting somewhat that it is above all a defensive alliance.

This is an unusually frank statement of a position that is common to the newer NATO members. Their increasing outspokenness, including the attempt by Lithuania to block the reinstatement of relations with Russia, led to a question to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

QUESTION: Thank you. Madame Secretary, as you know, some of the new NATO members have interpreted your recent overtures to Russia as potentially the U.S. making deals behind their back. I wonder – I know that you’ve been emphasizing that you’ll be consulting before any decisions are made anywhere – in Asia, in Middle East and Europe, everywhere you go. But what did you do today to give assurances to those allies that you will not indeed make any deals over their heads, whether it be with the Lithuanians, the Czechs or the Poles? Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: I think I reiterated that as members of this alliance, we share a common defense commitment – an Article 5 requirement – that we take very seriously. We intend to work with and support all of our NATO allies.

As the Strasbourg-Kehl Summit approaches, these deep-seated differences on the role of the Alliance are becoming clearer. Secretary Clinton can make reassuring statements, but the truth is that the US-Russia relationship is vital to the Obama administration, and its vision for the future of the Alliance is at variance with those that cling to Article V as NATO's central role. It will require a lot of diplomatic skill to begin to build abridge between the two camps.

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