When the leaders of NATO’s 28 member nations meet in Chicago, they will encounter a heavy-topic agenda including discussions and decisions on Afghanistan transition, ballistic-missile defense, cyber security and the Eurozone crisis.
Underlying all, however, and perhaps the most fundamental issue of the Chicago Summit is NATO’s direction: What is the role of an alliance whose members’ interests sometimes compete in a globally complicated, many-shades-of-gray 21st century?
“They are still looking for a mission,” said Richard Longworth, senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. “They are a little bit lost out there.”
NATO officials are viewing the Chicago Summit as an opportunity for its “New Strategic Concept” – adopted at the 2010 Lisbon summit, it outlines the alliance’s objectives for the future – to move beyond the conceptual stage and become an action plan.
The New Strategic Concept intends to guide “NATO’s evolution so that it continues to be effective in a changing world, against new threats, with new capabilities and partners.”
They call it NATO 3.0, using terminology that underscores the technology and complexity explicit in post-Cold War security issues.
Leaders of the 28 member nations and 22 nations in the Partnership for Peace will be looking toward the summit in Chicago to further articulate the alliance’s direction.
While specific agenda points are not likely to be nailed down until shortly before the summit, conversations currently taking place within the NATO organization and in the international community illuminate likely main topics.
Certain to be on top of the agenda will be the mission in Afghanistan. Since 2003, NATO has had troops in Afghanistan supporting and assisting the Afghan government and providing humanitarian assistance. (The first troops, in 2001, were there under U.N. mandate.)
At the 2010 Lisbon Summit, NATO reaffirmed its partnership with the Afghan government. NATO is now moving towards the withdrawal of its 130,000 troops and transferring power to Afghan forces by 2014. Discussions in Chicago will focus on how best to do this, as well as the role NATO should play in Afghanistan after 2014.
“Our support will not end in 2014,” Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told Afghan President Hamid Karzai at joint press conference in Kabul on April 12, “In Chicago, we will agree how NATO will provide the training, assistance and support that your security forces need once transition is complete.”
“Post Afghanistan, what do we do? That is the main question at NATO,” said Ambassador J. D. Bindenagel in a recent interview.
It’s about crisis management and cooperative security, said Bindenagel, a former career diplomat with extensive top-level experience in Europe, and now an administrator at Chicago’s DePaul University.
“What will happen in Afghanistan after we withdraw, when we stay for reconstruction and stability operations, police training, military training; when we help stabilize the country, when we are no longer in combat?”
Other major topics likely to be near the top of the Chicago agenda are constructing NATO capabilities to be better able to deal with a shifting global landscape and curbing the economic crisis within member countries in order to prevent a more general, more dangerous global security crisis.
The New Strategic Concept highlighted that while the threat of conventional attacks remains low, other threats are quickly rising to the top of international concern — threats such as ballistic missiles, cyber attacks, technological warfare and climate change.
NATO’s territorial missile-defense program was approved at the 2010 Lisbon Summit. Since then, NATO has worked with member and partner countries to slowly build up missile-defense capabilities. In 2011, Turkey agreed to build a missile-defense site as a part of this program.
Further discussion about the growth of NATO’s ballistic-missile-defense capabilities, along with resources to deal with other 21st century threats like cyber attacks and climate change, is likely occur at a ministerial level at the Chicago Summit.
NATO adopted in 2011 a revised policy on cyber defense, which mandates that member countries’ communication systems must meet certain requirements and emphasizes the alliance’s commitment to support countries experiencing cyber attacks. Further improving NATO’s defense capabilities against cyber attacks is likely to be on the minds of many leaders in Chicago.
NATO nation leaders are also looking to the Chicago Summit to calm anxiety over the growing Eurozone crisis. The concept being put forth by the alliance is called “smart defense.”
Smart defense explains the alliance’s need to more efficiently, effectively and economically provide defense and security, or to simply get “more bang for the buck,” Longworth said.
The implementation of austerity programs in many European countries has led to cuts in defense spending. Secretary General Rasmussen argues that despite this economic hardship, defense must remain a top priority.
“Europe simply cannot afford to get out of the security business,” he said at the 2011 Munich Security Conference. “It has to revitalize its role as the United States’ prime security partner and adjust to the new global security environment.”
With smart defense, Rasmussen argues that the alliance can do learn to do more with fewer resources. One way this is being done is through an increased emphasis on partnerships’ cooperation.
The NATO mission in Libya showed this idea already at work, as the alliance worked closely with the Arab League of Nations.
Yet, all these issues must be understood in the context of NATO’s continued search for a true 21st century mission. Created to deter Soviet aggression after WWII, NATO has taken on many roles throughout the decades but has in many ways not yet been able to pinpoint what its post-Cold War mission should be, Longworth said.