April 14, 2008: NATO Secretary General Jaap de
Hoop-Scheffer was probably looking forward to the NATO summit
that took place two weeks ago in Bucharest, Romania. After all,
the alliance plans to celebrate its 60th anniversary next year,
and de Hoop-Scheffer has visions of a new Atlantic charter
encompassing a new strategic direction for NATO's 26 members.
But the summit had its tense moments, reflecting NATO's midlife
crisis. This time, however, a good bit of the disharmony came
from a NATO member that has rarely been anything but in
lockstep with the United States for the last 59 years –
In his last year of office, George W. Bush apparently wanted
the Bucharest conference to be a positive showcase for his
foreign policy initiatives. Bush
pushed for a fast-track admission of
Georgia and the Ukraine as new NATO members. Bush's plan
was a direct challenge to German chancellor Angela Merkel.
With tensions between Georgia and Russia rising and energy
disputes between Russian energy giant Gazprom and the
Ukraine in recent years, Merkel was concerned that Bush's
plan would offend Russia. After all, Germany gets a lot of
its energy from Russia, too, so good relations between the
two countries are important. "It's too early," was
Merkel's comment upon her arrival in Bucharest.
In a newspaper interview German foreign minister Frank
Walter Steinmeier emphasized that his government sees no reason
for adding another potential issue with Russia this year. The
Russians just had to accept Kosovo's independence, and Germany
does not want the conflict between Georgia and Russia to become
part of NATO's agenda. Before the summit, Russia's foreign
minister Sergej Lawrow had warned NATO against "playing with
fire," and Russia's NATO ambassador Dimitri Rogozin announced a
"dramatic shift" in his country's relationship to NATO if the
two countries were put on a fast-track for membership.
With the fast-track admission plan derailed, Secretary
General de Hoop-Scheffer stated his belief that membership for
Georgia and Ukraine would be just a matter of time – if
the two countries wanted to be part of NATO.
The other major issue for NATO is the war in Afghanistan.
Although the differences of opinion among members were not
addressed during the Buchaest conference, they will continue to
be a serious challenge for the alliance. Recent terrorist
attacks in Kabul itself will likely increase American pressure
on its NATO allies to supply more men and material for NATO's
Afghanistan mission. The French recently agreed to send more
troops to Afghanistan, but Germany has repeatedly refused to
redeploy any of its troops to the southern portion of the
country. To some extent Germany sees America's military efforts
in the south as being part of the U.S. war on terror, rather
than as part of the overall NATO mission in the country. A
redeployment of troops would likely require approval by the
German parliament, the Bundestag, which may be hard to obtain.
The losses of NATO members in the south have been greater,
prompting the Canadians to say that they will go home unless
others do their part.
Those sentiments don't sound like a positive framework for
next year's anniversary. Quo vadis, NATO?