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World leaders from 60 nations are gathering in Chicago this month for an important diplomatic summit. NATO will be holding conferences on May 20-21, putting forward the Atlantic Alliance’s principles and policies for 2020 onwards. The summit will formulate specific programs tailored from the agreements made at the Lisbon Summit in 2010. The main topics in Chicago will likely be the future of mission in Afghanistan, the impact of austerity measures, and the program for shared defence capabilities called “Smart Defense”.
NATO diplomats are focusing on the transition to a non-combat role in Afghanistan. As the environment becomes increasingly hostile toward the Alliance, the Summit will be an opportune moment for NATO to demonstrate its continued support for peace in the area. The difficult financial situation in the country indicates that Afghanistan’s security forces will continue to be heavily dependent on aid from outside nations. Given the current global fiscal climate, another important topic at the Summit will focus on the financial responsibilities of the Alliance nations following troop withdrawal in 2014. The US is relying on Europe to devote 1 billion Euros a year, with only Britain having yet to pledge a donation of 70 million pounds. At the Chicago Summit we should see a division of funding responsibilities among NATO members.
A second important topic with regards to Afghanistan will be the decision by incoming French President Francois Hollande to withdraw all French troops by the end of the year. So far, France has played an important role in the mission as the fifth largest contributor. This new target date comes two years ahead of the previous one set by other NATO members. An early French withdrawal will increase the responsibility of other members of the Alliance and could influence other reluctant participants in the mission to plan for an early withdrawal as well. Since France has made a previous agreement to stay in Afghanistan to help train local security forces, an early departure has to be agreed upon at the Chicago Summit.
The responsibilities of the North Atlantic partnership are also going to be an important topic at the Summit. Strategic relationships will focus on the differentiation of capabilities of the partners according to the needs and interests of the Alliance. As the US is diverting its focus to the Asia pivot they will be devoting fewer resources to European defense. In addition, there are significant economic constraints in Europe. The dismal contributions of European countries to the latest NATO missions in Afghanistan and Libya are a concern for European involvement. This renews former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ warning of the dim future of NATO as a two-tier system: “between those willing and able to pay the price and bear the burdens of alliance commitments, and those who enjoy the benefits of NATO membership – be they security guarantees or headquarters billets – but don’t want to share the risks and the costs.” The United States has sent clear signals that Europe must dedicate more efforts to NATO. However, the Euro crisis has caused a reduction in military spending across the continent. Britain’s announcement of an 8 percent reduction in military spending over the next four years attests to that. Moreover, President Francois Hollande is also expected to reduce military spending. As the second and third largest contributors to mission, they are really the only Europeans largely involved in Afghanistan. Therefore, friction between the US and Europe over spending and distributing responsibility for funding the Afghanistan mission is not likely to be easily resolved.
Capabilities: “Smart Defense”
The weak global economy and shrinking military budgets have place more pressure on NATO to increase efficiency. The “Smart Defense” program will attempt to maintain the Alliance’s capabilities despite decreasing spending. Currently, only five NATO members have been allocating their self-imposed 2% of GDP to their defense budgets. The Smart Defense strategy will create a collective military agreement among NATO members to share military capabilities. The program is designed to address a wide ray of issues, such as logistics, missile defence, Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS), Surveillance and Reconnaissance. However, concerns regarding a lack of confidence in this system are likely to arise since somemembers of the Alliance are hesitant about being dependent on other states for critical military equipment. The negative consequences of this were evident in the most recent NATO deployment when Germany refused to use its air-surveillance aircraft during NATO’s air campaign in Libya. Despite the military alliance, states still value a self-sufficiency military capability.
The Summit is not likely to resolve the tensions rising between Russia and NATO regarding the missile defense system. This program is aimed at enhancing both NATO’s and Russia’s missile defenses. In addition, the US would have access to Russian radars, which would give the US a better vision of any launches from Iran. However, the development of this program has been in a deadlock because Russia has concerns about the expansion of NATO. This missile defense program entails American missile interceptors in Eastern Europe. Moscow is demanding that the missile defense not be used, now or in the future, against their nuclear deterrents. Since NATO is hesitant to agree to this, the talks have reached a deadlock. This situation is unlikely to change until after the American election in 2012. A concern for Russia, as the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, has taken a much more hostile attitude toward Moscow than Barak Obama.
The Summit will be useful for NATO members to sort out realistic responsibilities of each member state. It will be interesting to see the consequences of balancing member states responsibilities to the Alliance and their diminishing budgets. A shared military capability is a big leap of faith for some NATO member states. The risks involved are only worthwhile if all members make a fair contribution to increase NATO’s efficiency. The Summit will also have significant impact on the developments in Afghanistan. The war in Afghanistan is increasingly losing public support. Meanwhile, president Hamid Karzai holds little domestic legitimacy, and will be relying on international funding to diminish the influence of the Taliban and other insurgent groups. If the Alliance does not formulate a cohesive strategy for withdrawal and funding, the legacies of the war will be disastrous. The Summit will, therefore, have important implications on NATO’s reputation and future capabilities as an intervention force. If these issues are not worked out, the reliability of NATO will be put into question.