Sunday, April 13, 2008

The NATO Summit in Bucharest for Renewal of the Atlantic Alliance

The NATO Summit in Bucharest, Romania, was one of the big diplomatic events in the final year of the Bush administration. President George W. Bush was accompanied by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at the Summit meeting held from April 2 to 4. Restructuring the Atlantic alliance has been one of the key issues in US foreign policy since the beginning of current administration. Europeans also need to upgrade partnership with the United States to manage post Cold War politics and defeat terrorists. The Bucharest meeting is a milestone handed down to the next president of the United States.

At this conference, the following agendas were discussed, such as membership expansion, missile defense, and military operation in Afghanistan. While the missile plan was accepted and France decided to join the Afghan operation, membership for Ukraine and Georgia was postponed. Prior to the summit, experts discussed NATO’s role for the future.

At the beginning of this year, Ronald Asmus, Executive Director at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, comments on NATO expansion and the Russo-Western relationship (“Europe’s Eastern Promise: Rethinking NATO and EU Enlargement”; Foreign Affairs; January/February 2008). While arguing that NATO and EU must expand eastward to promote democracy and freedom, he says that the West be cautious enough not to provoke security concerns for Russia. He insists that NATO and EU expansion be paralleled with democratic transformation in Russia, which would eventually make this country a partner, or even a de facto ally to the West. Also, Asmus points out that NATO and EU enlargement raises serious concern among leaders in Russia while it has brought democratic stability in Eastern Europe.

Remember that democracy promotion is not solely attributed to the Bush administration. Asmus was a Deputy Assistant Secretary for European Affairs under the Clinton administration. He advocates America’s agenda as the current administration does. Of course, Asmus’s view on Russia is more softliner than that of the Bush team, as he thinks of making this country a de facto ally in the future.

In March, Ronald Asmus says that NATO is at crossroads in the post Cold War ambiguity of strategic objectives, while expanding partnership with its neighbors through EAPC (Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council) and the Mediterranean Dialogue (“Rethinking NATO Partnerships for the 21st Century”; NATO Review; March 2008).

Julian Lindley-French, Professor at the Netherland Defense Academy, and James Townsend, Director at the Atlantic Council of the United States, point out that the alliance needs to reach a strategic consensus to upgrade the organization and troops to deal with threats in this century. Also, non-Atlantic states such as Australia, India, Japan, and South Korea, should join decision making process in the broader Western alliance, they say (“Bucharest: Planning and Partnership for security effect in the 21st Century”; NATO Review; March 2008).

It is necessary to mention Europeans’ viewpoint to reshape NATO. On the eve of the Bucharest Summit, David Cameron, Leader of British Conservative Party, gave a lecture at the Royal Institute of International Affairs (“Crossroads for NATO - How the Atlantic Alliance Should Work in the 21st Century”; 1 April, 2008). [Also, link to the video.] Cameron argues that NATO has transformed from a reactive defense alliance into a peace enforcement alliance. NATO has made a significant contribution to peace and stability in the Balkans. 9-11 awoke the world to new threats. David Cameron argues the following four points for NATO to manage threats in the new era.

1. Closer trans-Atlantic partnership for democracy promotion
2. Strong American involvement in Europe
3. Europeans’ commitment to American policy making process
4. More burden sharing by European nations

Regarding Afghanistan, Cameron warns that failure in the Afghan operation will make America doubt utility of NATO, ultimately damaging European interests. Quoting French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s comment: ‘European security cannot rest on the shoulders of 3-4 countries’, Cameron urges all European members to upgrade their defense capability for global peace enforcement.

I believe it is valuable to listen to Cameron’s lecture, because global citizens can learn much about the alliance with the United States toward new era. His viewpoints and analyses are completely beyond domestic party politics. Keep this in mind, leftists and ultra-nationalists in Europe and Japan!

At the Bucharest Summit, America and Europe failed to reach an agreement of membership to Ukraine and Georgia, mainly because both sides still disagree on dealing with more aggressive Russia. Germany and France are more concerned with the balance of power with Russia, rather than rapid expansion of NATO. A German official said that the West needs to watch the next president Dmitry Medvedev more carefully, before posing a strategic challenge to Russia (“The NATO Summit: With Allies like These”; The Economist; April 3, 2008).

Despite the gap on eastward expansion, the missile plan was accepted. Moreover, France has come back as a full member of NATO, and decided to send more troops in Afghanistan.

Is this summit success or failure? Charles Kupchan, Senior Fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations and Professor at Georgetown University, comments that the Bucharest Summit illustrates difficulty in reaching consensus among allies in the age of post Cold War uncertainty. Regarding the failure in membership enlargement, Kupchan comments “It’s quite unusual. I can’t remember any time when the United States came in with such a clear position on a major issue and was so resoundingly rebuffed.” (“Kupchan: NATO Summit Shows Growing Difficulties in Reaching Solidarity in Western Alliance”; CFR Interview; April 7, 2008)

While the media tend to focus of the fall of American leadership in NATO, it is noteworthy that France has departed from Gaullist tradition as it decided to send troops to Afghanistan to help US, British, and Canadian forces, and reintegrate itself to NATO military command structure (“The Perils of Atlanticism”; Certain Ideas of Europe; April 7, 2008). Former Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepain, a vocal critic to US-led invasion when the Iraq War broke out, denounces President Sarkozy’s decision. But de Villepain will lose again, because Gaullism has become completely outdated.

Nevertheless, membership of Ukraine and Georgia is not completely ruled out, and it remains an issue of future consideration. The era of George W. Bush began with strategic discord between Old Europe, and now, his term is ending with rearrangement of the Atlantic alliance for the future.

Further references:

“Is NATO up to the Afghan Challenge? Expectations for the Bucharest Meeting”; Event at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; March 24, 2008

“NATO Summit: Fears for the Future” by Robin Shepherd; World Today; April 2008

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