SSR-RC Blog Archive

Final thoughts on the NATO summit in Lisbon By: Aly Verjee | SSR | Nov 24, 2010

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was right.  NATO’s new strategic concept has more than a few vague sentences and blanks to be filled in later.

To take a few particularly choice and detail-deficient articles:

  • “9. During the next decade, proliferation will be most acute in some of the world’s most volatile regions.”  (Breaking news?)
  • “19. Ensure that the Alliance is at the front edge in assessing the security impact of emerging technologies,” (Is this not the raison-d’etre for security agencies?)
  • “37. NATO must have sufficient resources – financial, military and human – to carry out its missions,” (The alternative being to call for insufficient resources?)

The new strategic concept is also notable for what it omits entirely — no reference at all to security policy in the Arctic, which in the next ten years (the expected lifespan of the 2010 strategy) of warming waters will surely be a “hot” issue for at least half a dozen NATO members.  (Rumours circulated that Canada was responsible for ensuring nothing was said about the High North).

However the strategic concept is quite clear on other aspects of NATO policy:

  • “17. As long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance.”
  • “21. The lessons learned from NATO operations, in particular in Afghanistan and the Western Balkans, make it clear that a comprehensive political, civilian, and military approach is necessary for effective crisis management.”
  • “35. Develop a deeper security partnership with our [Persian] Gulf partners and remain ready to welcome new partners in the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative.”

Was the Summit a success?  Was NATO reborn, as some ministers claimed?  As was the case before the leaders gathered, that question will be answered not based on success in combatting Somali pirates, nor on progress in Kosovo, but on war and peace in Afghanistan.  The increased emphasis on training and sustaining indigenous Afghan national security forces is at the heart of NATO’s plans for the next four years.  If the alliance fails to produce the results necessary to ensure that international forces from Afghanistan can start to be withdrawn beginning next year — that effectively, mission accomplished can be declared  — Lisbon 2010 will soon be forgotten.