Friday, 3 April 2009

Pre-Summit Press Briefing Analysis I

NATO Spokesman James Appathurai has briefed journalists on the upcoming Summit. (The full briefing is available online.) The first order of business will be at a series of working dinners, for Heads of State and Government; for Foreign Ministers and one for Defence Ministers. Appathurai said that:

The main two topics will be the Alliance's future and its approach to meeting new security challenges. That's topic one. Topic two will be NATO's relations with Russia. On the Alliance's future, you will recall that in Bucharest Heads of State and Government requested the Council to prepare a declaration on Alliance security for adoption at this Summit. That is what they are working on now.

Ministers of Foreign Affairs may give the final tweaks or not, depending on whether it's necessary at the Summit, but in essence it will reiterate NATO's fundamentals, collective defence. It will also set out a vision of NATO's partnerships, its future missions, and it should also give the green light to start work on revising the Strategic Concept, to have a new adapted Strategic Concept to be adopted at the next Summit, the one following this one.

The NATO review will happen in tandem with two US reviews. The Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), which is due to report in early 2010, and the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) due in 2011. The NPR could have a strong bearing on NATO's own nuclear deterrent posture. US nuclear weapons have been significantly reduced in Europe during the Bush Presidency, and it will be important for other fora (including the 2010 Non-Proliferation treaty Review Conference) that the US and NATO make progress in reducing and eliminating forward based tactical nuclear weapons. There is also room for a reduction in the importance of deterrence in NATO defence strategy. The QDR, which shapes the strategy and military forces of the US, will also be key to shaping NATO's own strategy, as the Alliance will (as always) take a lead form its largest member. Is the anti-insurgency fourth generation warfare paradigm to prevail, or will the old pattern of preparing for massive regional wars be maintained. How exactly will NATO have to adapt. These are big questions, and a year is not much time to answer them.

This discussion, the Strategic Concept discussion, will, of course, range across all the issues relating to what NATO should do and what NATO should be in the 21st Century. And that will, of course, not just affect NATO, but NATO's relations with other international organizations, other countries. And the discussion on the Friday night will start that reflection.
President Obama was very clear to the Secretary General when the Secretary General visited him last week and that is that he wishes to have a substantive discussion about the future of NATO on Friday evening.

Secretary General de Hoop Scheffer is getting some of what he wanted here. he has been pressing a strategic concept review since at least 2006, and finally that will happen. The Declaration of Alliance Security will not meet his exact goals. he had asked leaders to issue a new Atlantic Charter, but they rejected that request at Bucharest last year. (The original Atlantic Charter was issued by Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt in 1941, and presaged the creation of the United Nations, NATO and the world's financial institutions.) NATO's leaders will do nothing so far-sighted or grand this week.

Appathurai continued:

The second topic of discussion will be the nature and substance of NATO's relations with Russia. Following the December and March foreign ministerial decisions on political re-engagement with Russia what the Heads of State and Government will do will be to examine the political and practical steps that need to be taken.

Where can our core cooperation be strengthened? Are there new areas of additional cooperation that can be sought? How can the NRC be made better use of to address differences, to work on issues of common interest? And clearly there are issues of common interest, on Afghanistan where we share the interest in stability, on fighting terrorism, perhaps on the fight against piracy.

And I should be clear that in looking for strengthening cooperation NATO is in no way moving off of its disapproval of what has happened in Georgia, both in terms of the conduct of the conflict in August, but in particular, or also the recognition of the two Georgian republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent and the building of Russian infrastructure on those... or in those republics and on Georgian territory against the will of the Georgian government.

This is a promising area at present. The Obama-Medvedev statement on arms control at the G20, following all the 'push the reset button' rhetoric, appears to have had a very positive effect. NATO Monitor reported on this yesterday. While there are numerous problems to be resolved, and the future of Georgia is a major one, at least Russia and NATO are talking again and are beginning to cooperate in other vital areas. Both sides have stepped back from the confrontation that was developing last year, and this has to be welcome.

In addition: there will be two other dinners: Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Ministers of Defence will be meeting to discuss different issues. The Ministers of Foreign Affairs will discuss, alongside the Declaration on Alliance Security, if that's necessary, the situation in the Western Balkans and including Kosovo.

The Spanish through a wrench into the Kosovo picture a while ago, when their Defence Minister Carmen Chacon visited the province and told the troops that their mission was over, all without consultation with NATO. While some NATO nations have recognised Kosovo's independence, others have not; and for the foreseeable future the NATO mission will continue as the only means to ensure stability.

Defence Ministers will have the opportunity to discuss defence transformation. In other words, how do we ensure that we have the forces that we need to do the things that we have to do.

It will be interesting to see whether the UK proposal for a reaction force to operate within NATO boundaries, something that emerged from Eastern European concerns over territorial defence during the Georgia crisis last Summer, will be taken up at the Summit.

All in all, this is a substantive agenda, but with the hard decisions left until the next Summit which is likely to come in late 2010 or early 2011.

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