Saturday, April 21, 2012

International Relations: A Tale of Two Coming Summits

NATO summit
By Dr Ian Anthony*
Courtesy IDN-InDepth NewsViewpoint

Next month’s NATO summit will be held in Chicago, in an election year. While it will be hard to find anyone willing to go on record as saying that the choice of location is intended to be a boost for President Obama, it’s difficult to interpret it any other way. The NATO summit on May 20-21 will take place at the same time as a meeting of leaders of the most industrialized countries, the Group of Eight (G8). Perhaps unfortunately for NATO, both the agenda and the format of the G8 summit make it the more interesting and important of the meetings.

STOCKHOLM (IDN) - The Chicago summit is, in some respects, a formality. As its purpose is to deliver on key decisions made at the 2010 Lisbon summit, the fact that it is being held at all amounts to business as usual for NATO. According to its own website, the summit will focus on three main themes: Afghanistan, the Alliance’s territorial defence capabilities and ‘strengthening NATO’s network of partners across the globe’.

Unspoken tensions

There is no doubt that the NATO summit will produce declarations emphasizing solidarity. European countries may seek and will probably receive a strong signal of continued commitment to their security from the United States, whose approach to Europe is changing in light of recent analyses of the global security environment. This is particularly true since multiple speeches and publications have emanated from high levels in Washington outlining a greater Pacific focus in US security priorities.

Nonetheless, the European NATO member states all understand that a trans-Atlantic forum in which they can discuss issues of military security and plan military cooperation is useful and necessary, and will continue to be so – quite possibly in perpetuity. Therefore, NATO rests on a very solid foundation. However, it is also clear that the statements in Chicago will defer decisions on, or elide discussion of, a number of matters.

In some cases this is because the outcome is, to a certain extent, out of the hands of the Alliance. If the matter was ever in doubt, it is certainly obvious by now that a stable and secure Afghanistan is not within the gift of NATO. While the desirability of partnerships will no doubt be underlined, clear guidance on who will partner with NATO and for what purpose is unlikely.

NATO and Russia: heading for estrangement

The changing US view of the role of Europe looks like weakening commitment in the eyes of some Europeans, although it doesn’t look that way to the US, which sees it as tailoring its commitment to the current circumstances. On the other hand, if President Putin’s very clear long-term program for modernizing Russia works, this will have long-term impacts on European security priorities.

NATO and Russia appear to be heading towards a period of estrangement. The importance of one issue on which cooperation has been emphasized – logistic support to NATO operations in Afghanistan – is likely to recede. On issues such as missile defence, where positions are locked and appear mutually incompatible, there is likely to be either an agreement to disagree, or an effort to push the difficult underlying questions further into the background.

Moreover, efforts to address issues in the NATO–Russia forum would probably make matters worse rather than better. President Putin has made such a public issue of missile defence domestically that he would either have to explain to his Russian audience why he didn’t push harder in direct talks with NATO or perform at the NATO summit in a way that would hardly build mutually confidence.

The potential implications of Russian military reform

Russia has been trying to stop the USA’s Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) system since the 1990s and strongly opposed the US withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2001. It will no doubt keep trying, but with the United States, not NATO, as its preferred interlocutor.

Meanwhile NATO has no common or final view on the potential implications of Russian military reform, including the increase in its military expenditure by 9 per cent in real terms in 2011. Russian modernization may be a sign that Moscow is finally coming to grips with a corrupt and dysfunctional military establishment, but it could also be a future challenge for NATO to deal with.

All that the NATO member states seem willing to do is seek a degree of reassurance through their own actions but the Chicago summit is unlikely to explain the relationship between conventional forces, nuclear forces and missile defences in promoting defence and deterrence. Nothing bolder is anticipated than a statement to the effect that each of these types of weapon has a role to play.

What about the Group of Eight?

One recent problem for NATO has been how to explain its role in meeting new security challenges. Many of these are non-military in nature, and the Alliance has no obvious advantages compared to other organizations and forums when addressing them. In other cases, the role of military instruments in preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons is controversial within the Alliance.

Recent experience of addressing this issue within NATO offers no encouragement. The deep divisions created in the run-up to the war in Iraq have deterred any effort to engage NATO in the ongoing confrontation between many of the Allies and Iran over its nuclear ambitions.

Perhaps of greater interest is the question of how security issues will be discussed at the concurrent G8 summit, whose agenda demonstrates that security in the 21st century is not just a matter of reinvigorating alliances forged in the cold war. As a spokeswoman for the US National Security Council stated at the time of the announcement of the change of location for the G8 summit, ‘[t]here are a lot of political, economic and security issues that come together at the G8.’

The need for better political guidelines for action on global security

The change in location for the G8 summit from Chicago to Camp David could also facilitate a deeper and more rewarding discussion among the leaders than a NATO summit can accommodate. With almost 30 leaders present, a meaningful discussion among them on how complex ‘political, economic and security issues’ interact will certainly not be on the agenda at the NATO summit.

The holding of the G8 summit in a relatively secluded location may create an opportunity to go beyond the delivery of prepared texts leading to rehearsed joint statements. If such a format can provide better political guidelines for action on the big questions of global security then the G8 summit will have fulfilled its mandate.

Somewhat paradoxically, it might be that the G8 summit is also the place where some questions of relevance to NATO are also addressed. The willingness of the Russian President to travel to Chicago has been the focus of much discussion but the presence of Mr Putin at Camp David, and the nature of his participation, may offer a better indication of the prospects for finding common ground.

*Dr Ian Anthony is the Research Coordinator at SIPRI and the Director of the SIPRI Programme on Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-proliferation. This article first appeared in the SIPRI website under the title 'A tale of two summits: the Group of Eight and NATO'. It is being republished by arrangement with the author. [IDN-InDepthNews – April 20, 2012]