Saturday, 4 April 2009

NATO Spokesman's Briefing, With Commentary

Late last night NATO Spokesman James Appathurai gave a short briefing to the media. He said that three issues had been discussed during the Heads of State Working Dinner.

On the Strategic Concept Review – Appathurai said that all who had spoken were in favour of a review. There is a perceived need to update the current Concept to allow for new missions, like cyber-defence, the anti-piracy effort off East Africa and the Afghan mission, none of which are reflected in the 1999 Strategic Concept. He added that NATO leaders also want to reflect possible future missions of the alliance in the Concept. Theory needs to accord with practice, he said. There must be a balance between collective defence and the responsibility to protect the Euro-Atlantic area by projecting force. Appathurai also said that all reiterated the core principle - collective defence must be indivisible.

There is a notable point here. First, the ‘responsibility to protect’ concept has been used by the UN to mean the responsibility of the international community to protect the lives and human rights of those who are threat from genocide, civil war and other threats; and who are actually at threat from their own government. Stretching that principle to allow for Western power projection to defend interests beyond the NATO area will be extremely controversial.

Appathurai continued that the next major issue discussed was Russia. All shared view that Russia is a great power and a partner with whom NATO wants to cooperate, and must cooperate with. This is mutually beneficial. There was also general agreement that NATO and Russia must continue discussion through good times and bad, that the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) must not just be a fair weather organization. That said, there will always be some issues where NATO and Russia do not see things the same way, said Appathurai. NATO will not compromise on core principles – that there can be no spheres of influence, and that the territorial integrity of Georgia must be respected.

This is a clear change of position from the Bush years. The Bush administration pushed for strong action by NATO against Russia during the war with Georgia, and achieved the suspension of the NRC. There is an implicit criticism of the Bush policy in the decision that the NRC must not be a ‘fair weather body’. Also, Russians will chuckle at the idea that the territorial integrity of Georgia is sacrosanct, and point to Kosovo where NATO’s war in 1999, and subsequent political and peacekeeping involvement, has facilitated the break-up of Serbia and the creation of a new republic that not even all NATO members recognize and support. And further back, the German recognition of Croatia (later supported by NATO) that precipitated the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. Somehow, territorial integrity is always a core NATO principle. Perhaps it should be, and the Kosovo question should be subject to international mediation, as should the status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Finally, Appathurai said that leaders had discussed the appointment of a new Secretary General. He said the discussion would continue on Saturday, and that no decisions had been made or were, indeed, yet necessary (which is a common NATO spokesman’s code for ‘we can’t agree’).

Appathurai did not brief on the seperate discussions at working dinners of the Foreign and Defence ministers.

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