NATO Summit: Outcomes and Challenges by Harry C. Blaney III

NATO Summit: Outcomes and Challenges

by Harry C. Blaney III

With the end of the Chicago NATO summit,  we can assess the results of this meeting as well as the long term continued challenges. There has been a plethora of uninformed opinions and “short-termism” in much that has been said from the sidelines. We need to keep our eyes on the key issues that impact the overall security of the alliance and the globe.

Much of the reporting focused on the “end game” in Afghanistan. President Obama made a central statement on future strategy in Afghanistan and on the key issue of Pakistan.  He stated: “We are now unified behind a plan to responsibly wind down the war in Afghanistan.”  He further noted that there were real challenges ahead and he characterized the decision of NATO as “a major step.”  Turning to Pakistan, the President said “We think that Pakistan has to be part of the solution in Afghanistan. …Neither country is going to have the kind of security, stability and prosperity that it needs unless they can resolve some of these outstanding issues.” Thus, in a capsule statement, Obama summed up the complex security issues in the region and underlined the advantages of regional cooperation rather than continued double dealing and antagonism that result in instability and conflict risks.

The key element of this Summit is clearly a defined path towards withdrawal of the ground combat forces by NATO forces and a commitment stated by NATO that “Afghanistan will not stand alone.” NATO leaders further declared in their formal statement: “We affirm our close partnership will continue beyond the end of the transitional period.”

What was not  mentioned was the high degree of uncertainty about the capability, commitment, and effectiveness of both the Afghanistan forces and the Afghan government which so far has been characterized by corruption rather than honest service to the people. This clearly needs to change.

But at the same time, after ten years of effort and an increased desire by the Afghans for the foreign troops to leave, there comes a point when the Afghans must take full responsibility for their security and governance. Frankly, I do not have great faith in the Karzai regime but to wait for it to reform is not a viable strategy. There is also the difficult question of how necessary assistance projects will proceed in an environment where security remains questionable.  While commitments have been made to fund the Afghan Army in the long-term, only part of the money has been pledged thus far. Much more will be needed over the next coming months and years; and even with these efforts, the outcome remains murky.

But the alternative of endless war, proposed by Mitt Romney and his neocon advisors, makes little sense given the likely waste of blood and resources. It sounds like more of the Bush II brainless rush into Iraq without an exit strategy and for no rational reason.

The main strategy should be what Obama and the NATO allies are trying, namely a full court press on diplomacy and specifically trying for some kind of regional compact on security that serves all interests. On that issue no agreement was reached on the Pakistan halt of supplies into Afghanistan. Furthermore, no progress was achieved on getting Pakistan to commit honestly to act against the Taliban and other terrorists within their borders. Without this outcome, the chance of a true peace in Afghanistan is highly doubtful. But it may be a reason for getting out than for staying.

The hard part still remains ahead: to carry out a safe withdrawal from Afghanistan and to create as much stability and governmental authority as possible within the country.

NATO still has a ways to go in dealing with nuclear issues and the missile defense questions. But it is making progress despite these issues being played down in the press. But Obama and our allies seem on the right tract.

The other problems that NATO must face, as we have noted earlier, include what direction NATO should take regarding regional and global security.  The general question is when and how should NATO act in “out of area” regions when there is no direct attack on a NATO nation.

The model case is Libya but there are other actions NATO has taken in regions outside of Europe. Little of new substance was said by Obama or other NATO leaders on this topic. The Summit ended clearly trying to avoid taking a stand on Syria.  NATO Secretary General Anders Rasmussen said that the alliance has “no intention whatsoever to intervene.” What this likely means is that one or several nations in NATO are emphatically against any NATO military action. This leaves the friends of Syria as the alternative forum for addressing the still deteriorating and still dangerous situation. See more on this in a future post.

In sum, the NATO Summit did its most important job namely creating light at the end of the tunnel and setting a specific course of responsible action given the almost impossible and difficult landscape it faced in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. And clearly it aims to make diplomacy its key tool to seek stability and peace in the region. The NATO Summit also reaffirmed that NATO remains at the forefront of collective security for Western countries despite critics who predicted its demise. Not least, President Obama showed clear leadership and direction, especially on a global growth strategy and on NATO’s “end game” in Afghanistan and in dealing with a still difficult Pakistan.

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