NATO Realigns

Redefining Threats

NATO leaders recently adopted a new Strategic Concept that will serve as the alliance’s roadmap for the next 10 years and that reconfirms the commitment to defend one another against attack as the bedrock of Euro-Atlantic security. The document lays out NATO’s vision for an evolving alliance that will remain able to defend its members against modern threats and commits NATO to become more agile, more capable and more effective.

The new Strategic Concept constitutes a formal commitment to stretch the alliance’s once-limited purview to distant wars, such as the Afghanistan conflict, if they are judged necessary to prevent terrorist attacks from reaching the borders of NATO nations in Europe and North America.

As per this meeting of minds in Lisbon the Summit agreed upon a formula to defend the Euro Atlantic alliance from all security threats. While underpinning that conventionl wars or “hot wars” against its members were a remote possibility, the group outlined its strategy to counter the growing threat of terrorism, piracy and nuclear blackmails by rogue states. The new “strategic concept” its leaders hope will chart the the future course of the alliance in the coming decade.

In the face of rising threats from terrorism and extremism, NATO outlined a shift  in its focus from the offensive to the defensive and increase political contact with non-NATO partners and engage in broad cooperation with them. According to the NATO strategic concept,  security threats are increasing both in quantity and variety, with increased complexity and severity. Rivalry in outer space is intensifying and financial and energy competitions escalating. Also alarming are such issues as climate change, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, organized crime and plagues — all of which are addressed in NATO’s new concept.

White House officials, still smarting from foreign policy setbacks during the president’s recent Asia trip, described the reset NATO Strategic Concept, along with expected approval Saturday of theAfghanistan plan, as a “full embrace” of Obama‘s international agenda, and the president described the alliance as “fully united.”

Official End of Cold War?

Obama called on the Senate to follow NATO’s lead and move toward immediate approval of the new nuclear arms-reduction treaty with Russia. He said leaders from across Europe had told him they support the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) in statements that “could not be clearer.” The Concept expresses NATO leaders’ willingness to build a real “strategic partnership” with Russia, but given the current political divergences and long-time distrust between NATO and Russia, this goal is still hard to reach in short future, says Xinhua. Russia in the meanwhile agreed to aid NATO on anti-missile network in Europe.

In declaring its intention to build a defense network against ballistic missiles, NATO confirmed that the alliance would retain its nuclear deterrent indefinitely. “Deterrence, based on an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional capabilities, remains a core element of our overall strategy,” said the strategy declaration, NATO’s first such rethinking of policy in 10 years.


Will the smiles last?

The U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan formally adopted a transition plan  designed to turn over control of the war to Afghan security forces by 2014 but continue heavy financial and military support for the indefinite future. After NATO and the 20 other nations in the coalition sealed agreement on the 2014 transition goal, Karzai and Rasmussen signed an accord instituting what was called the NATO-Afghanistan Partnership, essentially a guarantee that as foreign forces wind down their combat role over the next four years they will not abandon Karzai’s government in its struggle against Taliban insurgents.

Obama in the meanwhile hit back at criticism from Karzai. Obama responded sharply to Karzai’s recent criticism of some U.S. military actions in Afghanistan. Partnership, he said, was a “two-way street,” adding of Karzai: “We have to listen and learn. But he’s got to listen to us, as well.”

In this video, Obama outlines Afghanistan withdrawal timeline with the focus being on not leaving Karzai half way.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Karzai is supportive of the coalition’s strategy in Afghanistan despite concerns he raised in a Washington Post interview about night raids targeting insurgent leaders.

As per stories in the media, the transition process was underway, with Afghan forces taking the lead from coalition partners in some areas. Initial transition areas are to be decided by NATO, then approved and announced early next year by Karzai. Washington Post has articulated that the NATO administration is negotiating a long-term bilateral agreement with Afghanistan, slated for completion early next year, that will promise indefinite U.S. security, economic, cultural and development support. That accord is separate from the NATO-Afghan agreement signed Saturday, which officials said was intended to guarantee continued training and equipment for Afghan security forces after 2014.


Obvious amongst the various statements made by leaders and the NATO Secretary General was the absence but inherent emergence of China on the world stage as a rival to American or NATO aspirations in Asia Pacific and globally. Chinese media has also placed suspicion over the NATO – Russia agreement on the Ballistic Missile Defence. It appears that if NATO and Russia were in partnership over the missile threat then, apart from Islamic threats including Iran and possibly North Korea, China appeared to be the natural foe.

Differences over Afghanistan withdrawal plans seem to have become more flexible with Obama not willing to leave Karzai at the mercy of Taliban and permit waiting out by Taliban and al Qaeda. The 2014 withdrawal plan appears to be more pragmatic and would permit Obama some breathing space against the July 2011 deadline when the transition will begin to take place.

The ramifications on the geopolitics of the region can not be missed in the short term. Pakistan would continue to play games for a favourable dispensation in Afghanistan for four more years. In which time, it would arm itself to the teeth based on doles from US and continue to ferment trouble on its Western and Eastern Borders. It though also supposes that Pakistan forces engaged in the West will not be able to pull back for another four years.

Afghanistan would continue to decide the pace and shape of events in the subcontinent till atleast 2014.

NATO, on the other hand has found some convergence on acceptance of collective and individual threats to its security while making common cause with Russia over the ballistic missile defence in Europe and the Atlantic. Obama, weary of a negative foreign policy tour of Asia has found his tonic in this summit.

Indian Express argues that India should make common cause with NATO for the Missile Defence. “The expanding security cooperation between the West and Russia in our Western neighbourhood means India too must begin the formal engagement with NATO that it has deliberately avoided until now. Delhi can only benefit from a dialogue with NATO as India begins to redefine its Afghan strategy and recalibrates its position on military space issues.”

How about joining NATO and Warsaw together?

This article cocurs with Brig Arun Sahgal’s analysis .

The summit declaration is here.

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About the Author

A strategy and security expert on South Asia. Research and exploratory work is aimed at authoring a series of books on what makes South Asia tick.

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