NATO has just finished another formal summit of member foreign ministers yesterday and several interesting issues were debated. Going into the summit were the central issues of Georgia and Ukraine’s future membership, the US missile defense system in Eastern Europe, relations with Russia (connected to the previous two), and the war in Afghanistan.
Weeks ago i discussed here, how the Bush administration was making a strong push for a more rapid acceptance of Georgia and Ukraine into the Alliance. Much has been made of Germany’s leader Angela Merkel’s resistance to such a maneuver, arguing that it would just incite Russia and would need to wait. Germany, along with other European states, has many reasons to desire to go slow on Georgia and Ukraine’s membership as the country is strongly tied to Russia in energy and other business ventures central to its economy and national well-being. Trade between Russia and Germany increased by over 25% last year and Merkel probably fears further antagonizing Moscow into further destabilizing actions, as the joining of NATO by its former vassals Georgia and Ukraine would likely do.
Now the US’s Bush Administration wants to give no concessions to what it has described as a ‘newly aggressive’ Russia. By outwardly supporting the integration of Georgia and Ukraine into NATO it is sending a message to Moscow that the Alliance cannot be intimidated or have its decisions made from an outside power. Of course, the fact is that Russia is a great power that matters greatly to NATO, as the military alliance would not exist without it. Basically, Germany is advocating ‘guiding’ Russia and the US ‘containing’ it.
What happened at the NATO summit was a little bit of accommodation and containing regarding relations with Russia. Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer stated the Alliance would begin “a conditional and graduated reengagement” with Moscow, saying that “Russia is such an important factor in geopolitical terms, that there is no alternative for NATO than to engage Russia.”
In terms of the ascension of Georgia and Ukraine, the Alliance members reconfirmed that the two states would eventually become full-fledged members and that cooperative reform programs, like the NATO-Ukraine Commission and newly formed NATO-Georgia Commission, would be accelerated. This outcome has to please Germany and other members who desire a more moderate growth strategy, and I would think placate the US, as progress toward the two’s acceptance is at least involving other mechanisms besides the lengthy Membership Action Plan. Russian Ambassador to NATO Mr. Rogozin told his home audience back in Moscow that this signaled a break or a weakness in the Alliance: “there is an open split within NATO and it will widen if NATO tries to expand further. The schemes of those who adopted a frozen approach to Russia have been destroyed.” It should be noted that as members of NATO are having this debate, the people of Georgia are still dealing with a rather menacing Russian force on and in some places inside their newly reduced borders.
The US defense missile defense shield (MDS) was also a topic of debate during the summit and this brought unquestionable good news for the Bush Administration. In the final communique of the summit, all foreign ministers gave their unanimous support for the Czech and Poland based MDS, calling it a ‘substantial contribution’ to Western defenses. The communique also called for Moscow to embrace American proposals for greater cooperation regarding the system. In this debate, Moscow clearly suffered a setback, at least for the moment.
Lastly, Afghan troop levels were discussed in the light of the upcoming Obama administration arrival in January. Secretary General Scheffer stated in an interview; “It’s crystal clear that we need more forces in Afghanistan.” Scheffer also stated that he was sure that leaders’ phones would be ringing all around Europe soon after the inauguration, with Obama on the other line asking for troops and money. The consensus seems to be that these leaders may have a harder time saying ‘no’ to a newly elected Barack Obama then to a lame duck Bush, but I’ll believe this only when I see it. I’ll leave you with a call to action by Scheffer to all his members:
“The allies need to do better. I want to see the balance in this alliance. I don’t want to just see more American troops. It has to be a combination of a military and civilian surge, and what slightly concerns me is that allies on this side of the ocean will have difficulty in matching the extra effort a new U.S. administration might put into Afghanistan.”