NATO Summit In Bucharest: A Glass Half-Empty Or Half-Full?
Depending on how you look at it, the largest summit in the history of NATO which was hosted by Romania on April 2nd-4th has been either a great diplomatic success or a total political fiasco. And like it is so often the case in US-European diplomacy, it has perhaps been both. The summit promised to cover a wide range of issues at the North Atlantic Council (NAC), the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC), the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) and the NATO-Ukraine Commission (NUC).
Discussions on NATO operations, enlargement and the development of partnerships, the policy of outreach to the Western Balkans and defense transformation promised at least one thing: It would and could not be a summit without results. The format chosen for the different meetings regarding Afghanistan also indicated a will to engage everyone. NATO allied nations, their governments, and non-NATO members contributing troops to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) were joined by Afghan President Karzai, Secretary-General of the UN Ban Ki-Moon, and other major international organizations working in Afghanistan, including the European Union and the World Bank.
MAP Stands For Membership Action Plan, Not For Maybe After Putin
The question of the MAP aspirations of Georgia and Ukraine threatened to cause a rift within the Alliance. President Bush, who was attending his last NATO summit, was determined to keep his promise towards Ukraine and Georgia. But he was surely not prepared to face such a strong opposition from France and Germany. Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, a longtime supporter of Ukrainian and Georgian memberships, saw in the intense debates the very proof of the vibrant democratic values which NATO embodied. He commented the rift in his typical manner, admitting that, indeed, such debates had never occurred among the members of the Warsaw Pact in the past but that he was very confident that an agreement would be reached. “It is not a question of “if” Ukraine and Georgia will be given a Membership Action Plan, but of “when”, he added.
In the corridors of the gigantic Parliament, Germany’s and France’s de facto siding with the position of a non-member state (the Russian Federation) raised questions and even eyebrows. To the address of some adepts of the smooth line towards Moscow, former Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar asked caustically: “Perhaps we should also consult Russia the next time we invoke article V ?”. In those days, MAP threatened to read: Maybe After Putin. But, the newcomers of the Alliance and their US ally were determined to avoid such a trend.
Quo Vadis Germania?
Germany and France were essentially sharing the same position towards the enlargement. Yet, it was Germany that was singled out as enfant terrible of the Alliance. And it is not difficult to understand why.
Many German officials attending failed to communicate clearly what exactly their line was. While Eckard von Klaeden, foreign policy advisor of Chancellor Merkel declared that it would be unheard if a non-member could decide upon these prospects, AP quoted his colleague, Ruprecht Polenz, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, also a fellow Christian Democrat of von Klaeden, as saying “Even a signal to Georgia and Ukraine that their accession is no longer a question of “if” but of “when” is premature”.
This lack of consistency in Berlin’s political agenda confused some of the NATO allies, the US delegation included, as Mc Cain’s foreign policy advisor Bruce Jackson underlined. In terms of public diplomacy and especially in the main press center, the “Germany - NATO enlargement issue” was the subject of much speculation. The situation did not get easier to understand with Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a Social Democrat and closest aide to Gerhard Schroeder in the last 15 years, advocating a policy of equidistance between his country’s allies and partners. Many analysts were left wondering, what an act of balance between Germany’s US ally, i.e. a democracy and Germany’s Russian partner, i.e. an authoritarian regime would actually look like. So, in the vast and noisy press room, a relic of the Ceaucescu architecture, the big question was less about who had been able to interpret Germany’s policy properly than about who had managed to get the latest statement and whether it had already been contradicted by any action of the German officials.
One thing, however, was certain; the first day was going to be a long day. When the delegations were sent out and deliberation kept off the record, it became even more certain that the heads of delegation were battling hard to find an agreement. A compromise was found after hours of very intense disputes and the General Secretary announced the results in front of a crowded press room:
"We agreed today that these countries will become members of NATO", Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told a news conference, reading from a communiqué agreed by NATO’s 26 leaders. "That is quite something!" he added. The Georgian foreign Minister called the compromise "a great historic breakthrough" although his country was denied MAP. But Russia’s deputy Foreign Minister Grushko warned it would still be a "huge strategic mistake."
Agreement On The Afghan Agenda
Regarding the new efforts made in Afghanistan, some substantial results have been reached:
NATO leaders agreed to send around 2,000 extra troops to reinforce the 47,000 men already operating in Afghanistan. The US remains N°1 contributor with 19,000 troops, followed by the UK with 7,750, Germany 3,490 and Canada 2,500. Germany is consistent at least in this regard: it will not send supplementary forces to support the efforts of its allies.
Greece, Italy and Romania will reinforce the training task forces aiming at optimizing the Afghan military. The goal is to have fully operational Afghan armed forces of ca. 80,000 men by 2010. This will enable a partial withdrawal of NATO forces by then.
France’s President reaffirmed that 700 extra soldiers would be sent to reinforce its contingent. Poland promised to put eight supplementary helicopters and 400 soldiers at disposal. PfP member Georgia will send 500 troops and even offered to join efforts with Poland in securizing the most dangerous regions in South and East-Afghanistan. Both nations are already discussing a form of labor sharing in these volatile areas. They will be supported by around 120 Czech elite troops, trained in guerilla and assigned to the fight against the Taliban. Non-NATO member Azerbaijan’s commitment means 45 more soldiers. And even New Zealand said it would bolster its 120-strong contingent in Bamiyan province with 18 more troops.14 non-NATO countries that contribute forces to NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan were listed in the official record of delegations of the summit. Many participated in bilateral or multilateral regional consultations aside of the NATO events.
The Afghan government made a special effort in terms of public diplomacy with Hamid Karzai being very available and visible during the consultations.
He rushed from one appointment to the next, thanking the allies for their assistance in his country. Prior to the summit itself, he had paid a visit to the Young Atlanticist Summit, where he debated the operation of stabilization in his country with Afghan students and young delegates, among them: WSN Russia Editor, Dmitry Udalov who was heading the Russian delegation.
Speaking to the press before he left the Romanian capital for Oman, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates confirmed that regarding Afghanistan further efforts could be expected from the new US administration regardless of whether US troops level in Iraq is reduced in this year: “President George Bush indicated that he expected the United States would make a significant additional contribution in 2009.”
The 59th summit ended with by a warm welcome to two new members: Croatia and Albania. They will be full members of NATO in 2009. President Bush greeted the newcomers and had a word for the disappointed applicant, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, whose membership has been delayed by Greece with the support of the French government. Athens wants this new member to consider renaming the republic to avoid confusion with the Greek province of Macedonia.
"Albania and Croatia are ready for the responsibility NATO brings, and they will make outstanding members of this alliance. We regret that we were not able to reach consensus today to invite Macedonia to join the Alliance." The US President said. Macedonia was urged to intensify consultations with Greece in order to be accepted in the next round. The Macedonian delegation walked out in protest. “We have to explain this to our population”, the visibly disappointed Foreign Minister said.
NATO-Russia Council: “The Cold War Is Over And Russia Is Not Our Enemy!” (G. W. Bush) – “We Want An Open Dialogue!” (V. V. Putin)
The meeting of NATO leaders in Bucharest which took place amid extremely tight security also sent diplomatic signals for a fresh renewal of NATO-Russia cooperation. At the beginning of the meeting, Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer underlined that NATO was determined to get results. He viewed the Bucharest NRC meeting as “a strong signal of our continued commitment to the spirit of the Rome summit.”
President Putin’s speech at the NATO-Russia Council was not a dejà-vu of Munich 2007. Konstantin Eggert, Moscow Bureau Chief, BBC Russian Service was sure that Putin would run the show : “Surely, he will refrain from using aggressive rhetoric”, he told WSN.
It is widely assumed that the Russian President wanted to conclude his last mandate on a successful note; and since he was scheduled to meet George W. Bush in Sochi after the summit, it would have been unwise to have a confrontational course ahead of the visit.
Before the summit even started, the morning briefings of Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov were less than conciliating, especially with regard to the invitation of Georgia and Ukraine to join the Alliance. Speaking to Izvestya reporters, Sergey Lavrov had talked about Georgia and Ukraine being “shamelessly dragged into NATO” and speaking of Georgia and Ukraine, both independent and sovereign nations, he added: “the US is trying to infiltrate the post-Soviet territory!” Yet, during the press conference the Russian President appeared to be mixing frank criticism and constructive ideas.
Asked whether NATO membership was an indicator for the democratic status of a country, he enraged: “There are a wide range of countries in the world that are not members of NATO, does it make them less democratic? I would like to take the case of Ukraine, if it had been accepted into NATO, would it have become a democracy? What? Is it not a democracy now? Entering NATO unfortunately does not result in the further democratization of any country. NATO is not a “democratisator”. Let us take the Baltic countries, in Latvia, there are hundreds of thousands of non-citizens, aliens, and such a state has been criticized by international organizations. This is a non-democratic state of society and entry to NATO has not changed a thing for those hundreds of thousands of people. So, this idea of NATO as a democratizing instrument has been overblown!”
When a journalist inquired whether Russia would ever consider membership, the Russian President stated clearly that this was not and will never be the case: “Russia does not aspire to be a NATO member, thank God! In terms of providing for our safety we are a self-sufficient country and we do not intend to sacrifice part of our sovereignty to create the illusion of increasing our security. But we do intend to cooperate with NATO as well as with other international organizations”.
And trying to win support for his position, he added: “No one has gotten rid of the Washington agreement, we have liquidated our bases in Cuba and in Vietnam, pulled our troops out of Eastern Europe and gotten rid of heavy arms in Eastern Europe in general. But what did we get in return? A base in Romania, where we are now, a base in Bulgaria, bases in Poland and the Czech Republic. This is all a movement of military infrastructure closer to our borders. Why don’t we talk about all this openly? With all our cards put on the table! We want an open dialogue”.
As it seems to be the rule in NATO-Russia relations the rhetoric greatly differs from the actual work being done. While Russia’s mass media tend to report the incendiary statements of Duma and Kremlin officials, they deliberately ignore major achievements which are reached quietly behind closed doors such as the agreement reglementing land transit of non-military equipment for ISAF. This agreement is of great importance to the Russian Federation since stability in Afghanistan would ultimately strengthen Russia’s security in the South.
It is likely that the Russian public will never hear about it.
France Is Considering Return To Military Command
Throughout the summit, the French delegation was working hard, trying to win the hearts and minds of its partners. No one, unless he was completely deaf and blind could escape being informed by the omnipresent communication staff of the French delegation. For Paris, Bucharest was all about boosting European Union's defense arm. Sarkozy’s major critics argued that the perhaps very French vision of a European defense would double up the structure and waste resources NATO could use better. President Bush had been a reluctant partner in this respect. So, journalists were surprised to hear him take the opposite position, short before the summit: "Building a strong NATO alliance also requires a strong European defense capacity", Bush said upon his arrival to Bucharest, "So at this summit, I will encourage our European partners to increase their defense investments to support both NATO and EU operations." Sarkozy was clearly happy to agree with the US President at his press conference: "The president of the United States made a declaration ... on the need for European defenses that would complement the alliance, which was, in my opinion, a historic turning point in US policy, Sarkozy said, visibly satisfied.
The French President has engaged Great Britain in bilateral consultations aiming at gaining their support for larger EU Headquarters, the location of the European Defense Agency in Brussels. He is lobbying aggressively for London to support an increase of the Agency’s budget. This last issue is also the subject of minor discord between President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel.
It is expected that the French EU presidency, which runs from July 1 to December 31, will give a fresh new start to ESDP. In addition to this, the 60th anniversary of the Alliance will be celebrated in Strasburg and Kehl, according to the latest agreement between Berlin and Paris.
Progress On Anti-Missile Shield
An agreement among the allies was also reached in the controversial issue of anti-missile defense system in the Czech Republic and Poland. In a joint US-Czech statement, the two allied countries confirmed that they had successfully completed negotiations: The Czech Republic will site a key part of a high-tech early-warning radar system on its territory, while the interceptors will be deployed in Poland.
Moscow still fears the missile shield could be used to target Russia. And Vladimir Putin repeated these fears during a press conference. The question of guarantees around the issue of the deployment of part of the Anti-Ballistic Missiles System was left for the agenda of the bilateral US-Russian meeting in Sochi following the summit.