The NATO Summit: Updated Strategy, Phased Transition in Afghanistan, Reset with Russia
November 18, 2010
On November 19–20, President Obama and the leaders of the 28 member nations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) will gather in Lisbon, Portugal, to approve an updated strategy, a set of priority military capabilities, plans to strengthen partnerships, and a number of internal reforms all designed to ensure that the alliance is able to safeguard the security of its members effectively and efficiently in the coming years. Allied leaders will meet with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and leaders of other countries engaged in Afghanistan to reaffirm NATO’s commitment to stabilization of that country and review plans for a phased transfer of responsibility to Afghan forces for the security of their country between early 2011 and 2014. They will also meet with President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia to agree on concrete steps and an action plan to expand NATO-Russia cooperation.
Q1: Why does NATO need a new strategy? What does it envision?
A1: NATO has modified its Strategic Concept—which frames the alliance’s political goals, security strategy, and military requirements—several times since its founding to reflect developments in the international environment. Allies agreed that the current 1999 Strategic Concept does not adequately reflect dramatic changes over the past decade, particularly the complexity and global nature of security affairs. At their 60th anniversary summit in April 2009, NATO leaders directed the secretary general to prepare a new Strategic Concept for approval in Lisbon and to enlist a group of distinguished experts to advise him and member governments on the content. While NATO has been busier than ever, engaged in six military operations, many perceive the alliance as adrift and lacking a compelling statement of purpose. In August 2009, NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmusssen invited former U.S. secretary of state Madeleine Albright and former Royal Dutch Shell president and CEO Jeroen van der Veer to chair the “Group of Experts,” and they and 10 other members spent the next nine months assessing the state of the alliance. The group’s report revealed a remarkable consensus on the alliance’s enduring value and strategic priorities and advanced various recommendations that framed the main elements of the new Strategic Concept and facilitated the work of the secretary general and member governments in drafting the final document.
The new Strategic Concept will reaffirm that collective self-defense remains the core commitment among members, which must be supported by prudent plans and preparations to protect all allies and by an appropriate mix of conventional and nuclear forces designed to deter any aggression. It will note that in today’s complex and uncertain global security environment NATO needs more flexible and agile armed forces both for collective defense and for operations beyond the North Atlantic region to safeguard members’ interests. The document is expected to endorse territorial missile defense as a new alliance mission to protect against the threat posed by the proliferation of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction. It will call for development of nine other critical military capabilities needed to deal with emerging challenges, including cyber attacks.
The new Strategic Concept will recommend enhanced NATO partnerships with nonmember governments, other international organizations, and a wide range of civilian entities to deal effectively with many complex security problems, including peace support and humanitarian missions. It will also call for a renewed commitment to conventional and nuclear arms control measures, with a long-term goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.
Coming at a time of fiscal austerity in all member governments, the summit will also endorse various reforms, including reducing the NATO military command structure by about 30 percent, considerable slimming of civilian agencies, and other measures to enhance efficiency and maximize value from resources invested in the alliance. With defense budgets in most member countries continuing to decline, allies will be hard pressed to both maintain current operations and realize priority improvements in military capabilities without enhanced multinational cooperation, pooling arrangements, common procurement programs, and role specialization.
Q2: What is being planned for the Afghanistan transition?
A2: On the second day of the summit, allied leaders will meet with Afghan president Karzai and representatives of other countries contributing to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to approve the alliance’s long-term commitment to Afghanistan and plans for a phased transition to an Afghan lead in providing for the security of that country. NATO assumed leadership of ISAF operations in 2003, and there are presently about 98,000 U.S. and 45,000 NATO forces deployed in the country. The ISAF mission of enhancing security in Afghanistan through counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations, the training of the Afghan National Security Forces, and support to governance and economic development remains costly, militarily demanding, and politically controversial in all allied countries, with approximately 900 allied and 1,300 U.S. casualties to date. Some allies have already withdrawn their combat forces, and several others are subject to firm deadlines or looking to shift to noncombat roles. The summit is expected to endorse plans for transition, based on certain conditions, to an Afghan lead for security in some provinces in early 2011, with the goal of Afghan forces taking the lead for security throughout the country by the end of 2014. Allied officials have noted that NATO support operations would likely continue beyond the end of combat operations.
Independent assessments suggest that Afghan forces are unlikely to be prepared to assume a significant transfer of responsibility for security until well after 2011 without considerable risk to broader stability. (See, for example, Anthony Cordesman, Afghan National Security Forces: What It Will Take to Implement the ISAF Strategy, CSIS, November 2010.) The keys to realizing this goal and termination of NATO’s engagement are enhancing the training and expanding the size of the Afghan National Security Forces. At the 2009 summit, allied leaders established a new NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan (NTM-A), but governments have failed to meet pledges to provide trainers, particularly for police, slowing the transition process. The NTM-A commander recently reported that he needed about 900 trainers to realize his mission. In a surprise move, the Canadian government announced on November 15 that it would fill that gap by retaining about 950 soldiers and support personnel in Afghanistan at the scheduled July 2011 end to their involvement in combat operations. While considerable strides have been made in training, there are still sizable shortfalls in quality and quantity of Afghan forces, particularly for police units.
Q3: Will NATO and Russia agree to a fresh start?
A3: NATO has sought to engage Russia in cooperation over the past decade, and there were some successes such as combined peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina after 1995; however, Moscow objected to NATO’s expansion into Central and Eastern Europe and its campaign to prevent genocide in Kosovo. NATO suspended cooperation with Moscow following the Russia-Georgia war in August 2008; efforts to restore that cooperation have been underway over the past year, in tandem with the “reset” of relations between the United States and Russia. There have been concrete areas of progress—particularly Russia’s granting permission to use rail and air transit corridors across its territory and into Central Asia for the supply of ISAF in Afghanistan.
After some hesitation and intensive negotiations, President Medvedev accepted the alliance’s invitation to hold a NATO-Russia Council Summit in Lisbon on November 20. Medvedev and NATO heads of state and government are expected to endorse a package of measures to enhance Russian cooperation with respect to Afghanistan, including allowing two-way transit, training of Afghan counternarcotics officers, and a provision for maintenance of (Russian-made) Afghan transport helicopters, as well as steps to deepen cooperation on counterterrorism and piracy. Medvedev and NATO leaders will agree to pursue a joint assessment of common security challenges as a way to clarify mutual concerns and threats and thereby identify promising avenues for future cooperation. Finally, the Russians have shown increasing interest in the possibility of cooperative development with NATO of independent missile defense systems. Many political and military-technical questions still need to be sorted out at this early stage of the dialogue, so the leaders are expected to agree to an action plan that would direct lower-level officials to explore the scope for NATO-Russia missile defense cooperation and report their findings in six months.
Stephen J. Flanagan is senior vice president and Henry A. Kissinger Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. He served as an adviser to the NATO Group of Experts.
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