In The Media

A Canadian primer to the Chicago NATO Summit

by Colin Robertson

May 20, 2012

Presidents, Prime Ministers, and Ministers responsible for foreign affairs and defense will meet in Chicago for the 25th NATO summit May 20 and 21, 2012 at the invitation of President Obama. It is predicted to be the largest meeting in NATO’s 63-year history.

It has been designated a “National Security Special Event” by Homeland Security as the meeting is expected to be met with demonstrations by the occupy movement and a rainbow assortment of other protest groups, including the coalition of clowns. The conference takes place against a backdrop of crisis in the Eurozone and the uncertainty of electoral change in the United States and other European countries.

It will be the first NATO summit for newly elected French president François Hollande, whose electoral platform included a pledge to pull French forces out of Afghanistan. The meeting follows directly on the G8 summit held on the weekend at Camp David.

What is NATO?

In the wake of the Second World War, the victors set up a series of international institutions. The foremost was the United Nations, with universal membership designed to advance human progress and prevent the “scourge of war”. At the same time, mindful of the growing division between the Soviet Bloc and the West, the western alliance set up a collective security agreement called the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In the words of its first secretary general, Lord Ismay, NATO was designed to “keep the Russians out, the Germans down, and the Americans in”. Designed primarily as a collective security agreement, whereby an attack on one would be considered an attack on all (Article 5), it was also designed at Canadian insistence to have an economic dimension to promote trade, investment, and commerce between the members (Article 2).

The agreement was signed on April 2, 1949. Its original membership included twelve countries – the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, France, Denmark, Iceland, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg. Turkey joined in 1952, West Germany in 1955 and Spain in 1982. France left the military alliance in 1967 and rejoined in 2009. With the collapse of the Soviet Union (1989), NATO membership has expanded to 28 countries, including most of the former Warsaw Bloc countries as well as the Balkan countries created with the dissolution of Yugoslavia (Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia).

NATO is headquartered in Brussels, where Secretary General Anders Rasmussen, former Prime Minister of Denmark, leads its Secretariat. Member nations are represented by ambassadors (called Permanent Representatives) who sit on the NATO Council. Each country’s delegation also includes a Military Representative who sits on the Military Committee to provide advice on military policy and strategy. While there has never been a Canadian Secretary General, General Ray Henault, former Canadian Chief of the Canadian Defense Staff, served as Chairman of the Military Committee from 2005-2008.

What has NATO done?

NATO’s original purpose was to serve as a trans-Atlantic political and military alliance to deter Soviet aggression. However, since the end of the Cold War, NATO has expanded its operations. NATO forces were involved in bringing peace to the Balkans, an operation that continues today. NATO forces, under the umbrella of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), have been present in Afghanistan since 2003. In 2005, NATO assisted in the relief efforts following the Pakistan earthquake. In recent years, NATO has also provided support to African Union peacekeeping missions in the Sudan and Somalia. Most recently, NATO led the UN-sanctioned Libyan campaign, maintaining a no-fly zone and conducting air strikes against the Gaddafi regime. Canadian Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard directed the air campaign. Currently, NATO forces are involved in fighting piracy off the Horn of Africa.

Who pays for NATO?
The United States shoulders three quarters of the alliance’s operating budget. The balance used to be half Europe and Canada, and half the United States. In his valedictory remarks to NATO (June 10, 2011), former US defense secretary Robert Gates warned, “The blunt reality, is that there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the U.S. Congress — and in the American body politic writ large — to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources or make the necessary changes to be serious and capable partners in their own defense.” In addition to the United States, only four countries meet the NATO commitment to devote two percent of the GDP to defense: the UK, France, Albania, and Greece. Since 2001, European nations have been cutting their defense budgets by an average of 15 percent annually. The United States, on the other hand, has doubled its defense expenditures over the same time period. As former NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has remarked, “Defense and public opinion are a difficult combination in Europe”.

What is on the NATO agenda in Chicago?
NATO’s last summit (Lisbon 2010) endorsed a new strategic concept for NATO. The secretariat has grouped the agenda under three headings:

  • Afghanistan: The ISAF mission will shift in the next couple of years from a combat role to providing advice and training to Afghan National Security Forces. Last month, the US signed a strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan. The US goal in Chicago is to begin to flesh out the outline of the agreement, so as to include contributions from allied and partner nations. On the second day of the conference, the 22 ISAF member nations who are not also members of NATO will join the discussions around the future of ISAF. Observers expect discussions will focus on issues including NATO’s shift to a supporting role in 2013, training and financial support for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), partnership with Afghanistan beyond 2014, and long-term international assistance, although explicit financial commitments are not expected until the Tokyo Donors conference in July.
  • Smart Defense in an age of austerity: Defense budgets in each member nation are being reduced. To more fairly share the burden of collective defense, members will be asked to commit to share and pool resources and capabilities and to collaborate on future procurement. The objective is to eliminate duplication and to provide interoperable hardware for the alliance. Looking forward, NATO has to figure out how it can better ensure readiness and operational capacity. General Abrial, Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, has said he will bring to Chicago a series of initial projects clustered around themes like training, education, logistics, sustainment and protection.
  •  Partnerships: NATO has effectively become the global security force: part cop; part peacemaker; and part peacekeeper. Through partnerships with non-NATO members, (e.g. Australia and New Zealand in Afghanistan, the African Union and Arab League in Libya) it has also become a ‘coalition of the willing’, although willingness is an ambiguous term. However, protocols must be worked out to deal with the nitty gritty of operations in the field. Even within the alliance, the lack of common protocols hampered NATO operations in Afghanistan.
    It is expected that there will be announcements around pilot projects, including air policing in the Baltic and the development of allied ground surveillance. Ballistic missile defense within Europe will also be discussed, although this continues to be contentious, with the Russians describing it as a provocation.

What about the future of NATO
Recent NATO operations (Afghanistan, Libya, patrolling the Gulf and Straits of Hormuz) have been out of the European theater. If NATO is to become the hub for future Western Alliance military operations, especially given the US pivot to Asia and its focus on the Indian and Pacific Oceans, then NATO will continue to evolve. Partnership with non-NATO nations will become even more important.

What about Canadian interests?

Canada ended its combat role in Afghanistan earlier this year and its training role beyond 2014 is undecided. The NDP official opposition, echoing popular sentiment, wants the government to end the operation in Afghanistan, but the Harper government has not yet shown its hand. As Deepak Obhrai, parliamentary secretary to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird told the House of Commons on Friday, “Canada is committed until 2014 to participating in an international mission to train Afghanistan security forces to prevent that country from becoming a safe haven for terrorists. We will assess what is necessary to meet these objectives and we have not made any final decisions at this time.”

Other allies, including the UK and Australia, have responded positively to the US request for continued military presence and financial commitment. Like every other NATO nation, Canada is looking to reduce its defense commitments. The decision made in June 2011 to withdraw from NATO’s Airborne Warning And Control System (AWACS) and the Alliance Ground Surveillance project, using drones, has been criticized by the Americans, in part because they fear a knock on effect by other allies. Nonetheless, Canada continues to make a contribution to NATO. In addition to continued economic assistance and trainers in Afghanistan, Canada is providing assistance in in post-conflict Libya.

A significant Canadian contribution to the trans-Atlantic dialogue in recent years is the Halifax International Security Forum held each November. Initiated and hosted by Defence Minister Peter MacKay, it draws ministers, senior military officers, diplomats, and the think tank world for three days of discussion.

Further Reading

Much of this primer is drawn from discussion and papers presented at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs conference on the future of the alliance (March 28-30). Partner organizations included the Canadian Defense and Foreign Affairs Institute and the Canadian International Council. CDFAI senior fellow Elinor Sloan presented NATO and Crisis Management Operations: A Canadian Perspective. See also David Bercuson and Jack Granatstein’s Lessons Learned? What Canada Should Learn from Afghanistan, as well as Paul Chapin’s Security in an Uncertain World, A Canadian Perspective on NATO’s New Strategic Concept (2010).

This primer was prepared by CDFAI vice president Colin Robertson with research by Conor Robertson.

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