NATO: Chicago Summit – A Vision of Success, or a Missed Opportunity?

Successes and failures are often in the eye of the beholder; the following two blogs offer contrasting views on the outcomes of the 2012 NATO Summit in Chicago.  We call it “Dueling Blogs”…….

Image of a fencing foil

NATO Summit: A Swing and a Miss
by Brett Swaney
Edited by Mr. Mark Ducasse

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen stated that the Chicago Summit was an outright success, declaring: “We [NATO] have focused on the future of Afghanistan; we have decided to invest smartly in our defense, even in times of austerity; and we have engaged with our partners around the world to address the challenges we all face in the 21st century.”[i]  Yet on all counts, the Summit was a shadow of what could have been a critical moment in the history of the organization.  This was a failed opportunity to provide a desperately needed vision of the future for the world’s premier security alliance.

The headline grabbing issue for the Chicago Summit was Afghanistan.  While milestones in the Afghan conflict were announced and leaders “took stock” of their progress, they were little more than a rehash of financial and military commitments, as well as agreement on a timetable for withdrawal.

Critical issues were left unaddressed. Almost all of the closest U.S. allies failed to commit specific amounts of funds to help finance Afghanistan’s military forces through 2024.  The long term funding question is vital to the future of security in Afghanistan.

Further, allies agreed to a plan that would see Afghan security forces shrink by 120,000 men – but how do you demobilize those soldiers and remove their not insignificant spending power when the Afghan economy is already in shambles?

The details of future NATO engagement in Afghanistan also remained opaque.  Will it be only advising and training?  Will there be special operations units in place to aid Afghan forces in trouble?  And no one was willing to even broach the topic of Afghan political reform – the real threat to democracy in the war-torn country.

Yet, the greater question of NATO’s future after Afghanistan remained the unaddressed elephant in the room, and that the future of the Alliance will rely-in part- on expanding global partnerships.  Yet, according to Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin, this summit “is the first in decades to make little or no progress on the enlargement of the organization.”[ii] For aspirants such as Bosnia-Herzegovina, Georgia, Montenegro, and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia the path to membership has been significantly delayed.

The last round of NATO enlargement occurred in 2004 with the accession of Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia. The accession of the Baltic States was a success and the Alliance became stronger as a result, demonstrating that NATO can play a key role in reconciliation between former adversaries.  Estonia in particular is making significant contributions as the host of the NATO Cyber Defense Center of Excellence, and is a strong advocate for cyber defense.

Will NATO wait for another Kosovo or Bosnia before pursuing a similar process in the Balkans?  In this light, the Summit was another missed opportunity to resolve unfinished business in Europe.

The Summit was also an important opportunity to mend ties, and shore up the often-cantankerous relationship with Pakistan.  Pakistan’s closure of NATO supply routes, and the exorbitant fees demanded to reopen them are in protest to drone attacks and a U.S. air strike that killed two-dozen Pakistani troops in November of last year.

Yet after being invited to the Summit at the last minute, President Obama refused to meet with Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari face-to-face.[iii]  This very public snub will certainly fail to convince Pakistan to acquiesce and re-open its supply routes for NATO, and it is unlikely that this diplomatic sleight will further U.S., or NATO goals in the region.

The Summit also focused on capabilities.   The ongoing fiscal challenges in the United States, and the continuing Eurozone crisis catapulted the Secretary General’s personal initiative “Smart Defense” to the top of the list at the Summit.  Smart defense is a good idea in an economically challenging context, when a system for coordinating and pooling defense resources to mitigate duplication and cost is needed.  Leaders at the summit announced twenty-two projects under the Smart Defense initiative, including the extension of Baltic air policing, and improving the Alliance’s ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) capabilities by signing a contract to buy five Global Hawk Drones from Northrop Grumman.[iv]

While these are no doubt needed capabilities and important symbolic operations, none of the projects will significantly impact the course of the Alliance in the future.  In fact, a plurality of experts surveyed by the Atlantic Council and Foreign Policy magazine believed that smart defense would only “mask NATO’s inability to make major necessary reforms.”[v]

The Summit in Chicago was an unrealized opportunity to lay concrete foundations for the future of the Alliance and reaffirm U.S. leadership therein.  A set of rather modest successes at best does not mask the larger questions plaguing the Alliance.  Missed opportunities to answer critical questions about Afghanistan, Smart Defense, and Pakistan leave the impression of an alliance struggling with current crises, and unable to get its head above water.  With some continuing to debate the relevance of NATO, an uninspired, unambitious summit of missed opportunities does not portend a hopeful outlook for the future.

Brett Swaney is a research intern at the Center for Transatlantic Security Studies.


[i] Parrish, Karen.  “NATO Secretary General Terms Summit a Success.” U.S. Department of Defense.  21 May 2012.  Retrieved May 28, 2012.  http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=116436

[ii] Rogin, Josh.  “The NATO non-enlargement Summit. ”Foreign Policy.  May 21st, 2012.  Retrieved May 25, 2012.  http://thecable.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/05/21/the_nato_non_enlargement_summit

[iii] MacAskill, Ewen.  “US-Pakistan Tensions Deepen as Obama Snubs Zardari at NATO Summit.”  The Guardian.  May 21, 2012.  Retrieved on May 26, 2012.  http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/may/21/us-pakistan-tensions-deepen-nato

[iv] Daalder, Ivo, Gideon Rose, Rachel Bronson.  “Ivo Daalder Discusses the Chicago NATO Summit.” May 23, 2012. Retrieved May 26, 2012.  http://www.foreignaffairs.com/discussions/news-and-events/ivo-daalder-discusses-the-chicago-nato-summit?cid=rss-rss_xml-ivo_daalder_discusses_the_chic-000000

[v] “Atlantic Council/ Foreign Policy Survey: The Future of NATO.”  May 14, 2012.  Retrieved May 28, 2012.  http://www.acus.org/event/atlantic-councilforeign-policy-survey-future-nato

_________________________________________________________________________________________

reverse image of fencing foil

NATO Summit:  Mission Accomplished.
By StephanieChristel
Edited by Mr. Mark Ducasse

“We came to Chicago with three goals. And we have met them,”[i] were the words of NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen after the two-day series of meetings focused on Afghanistan, Alliance capabilities, and global partnerships. Luckily, this summit avoided being one for the history books—in a negative sense.

Significant issues, such as newly elected French President Francois Hollande’s announcement of the withdrawal of French troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2012, sour relations between the Alliance and Pakistan, or security concerns in Chicago could have easily derailed the Summit.  But they did not and clear decisions were taken on each item of the agenda.

Afghanistan headlined the Summit agenda.  With all eyes on the Alliance and its partners, the Summit produced concrete decisions among leaders and assurances to both ISAF-contributing nations and the Afghani people.  To the citizens and soldiers of Allied and partner nations, leaders emphasized the “irreversible transition of full security responsibility”[ii] to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and signaled the official closure of what will be a thirteen-year combat mission.

The concerns of Afghan citizens were not ignored, and the pledge of some $4.1 billion per year in support of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), 87.5% of which will come in the form of foreign donations, codifies the Alliance’s commitment to the State and people of Afghanistan, long after our troops have left.[iii]

While some will be disappointed by the lack of public monetary promises made to the fund, it was never intended for this summit to be a donors’ conference.  From the outset, the discussion of this summit was focused on security issues related to Afghanistan.

In July, the Tokyo Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan will delve into the non-security, mainly financial and developmental aspects, of support during the “Transformation Decade.”[iv]  The United States is confident that the international community will be able to obtain full funding.[v] Tokyo will be an extension of the NATO Summit’s commitment to a sustainable Afghanistan and it’s fledgling security forces.

The continuance of the Eurozone crisis and reality of declining U.S. defense budgets brought credence to the decisions taken at the Summit on Alliance capabilities.  Leaders approved twenty-two projects under the “Smart Defense” banner.  These projects include extending the Baltic air policing mission and improving the Alliance’s intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities (an area in which the organization lacks an independent capability, as was highlighted in Libya – where the allies relied heavily on the U.S. to fill this role).[vi]  In addition, leaders declared interim missile defense capability, a major feat when considering the significant political and military capital needed to make this system a reality.  The Atlantic Council’s Barry Pavel describes this as “a good start” but noted, “more needs to be done.”[vii] It is essential to view this Summit as the first of many that bring new perspectives to Alliance capabilities.

The Deterrence and Defense Posture Review (DDPR), mandated at the previous NATO Summit in Lisbon, stated that “as long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance,” reassuring concerned NATO allies and demonstrating to potential adversaries that nuclear weapons would remain a core component of the Alliance’s deterrent and defense capabilities.

After the wave of concern that the U.S. “pivot” to Asia set off, this strong stance quelled the concerns of some member States and, in part, reinforced the transatlantic relationship.

The least noted of agenda topics, partnerships, was an extremely successful component of the Summit.  This summit was the largest ever, with 63 nations in attendance plus representatives from the European Union and United Nations.

With the approval of the other 27 nations, President Obama asked Secretary General Rasmussen to begin a process that will allow highly involved partners, those with both the political will and military capability, to engage significantly, and to be integrated into the planning and training discussions of the Alliance.[viii]

Support of NATO aspirant nations by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her statement that Chicago should be “the last summit that is not an enlargement summit,”[ix] indicated the necessity of spreading the linkages of stability and security NATO provides for its members. This statement has already marked an important agenda item for the next summit, a date and location for which have yet to be determined.

Focusing on the “what could have been” is not enough to condemn efforts in Chicago as “unsuccessful.”  This summit emphasized NATO as a hub of global security—out-of-area operations, working with an expanding network of partners around the world, and efficient operator of pooled capacities—and reiterated the steps being taken to continually transform the Alliance.  This Summit made tangible contributions to global security, and highlighted the Alliance’s continuing relevance to its members, partners, and the rest of the world.

Stephanie Christel is a research intern for the Center for Transatlantic Security Studies.


[i] “NATO-News: NATO Chicago summit meets its goals.” May 21, 2012. Retrieved May 25, 2012. http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/news_87603.htm

[ii] “Chicago Summit Declaration” May 20, 2012.  Retrieved May 22, 2012.  http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/official_texts_87593.htm

[iii] “Chicago Summit Declaration on Afghanistan.”  May 21, 2012.  Retrieved May 25, 2012.  http://www.nato.int/cps/en/SID-8E723D85-B8AC5902/natolive/official_texts_87595.htm

[iv] Ibid; “NATO Chicago Summit: Afghanistan.” UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.  Retrieved May 25, 2012.  http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/global-issues/afghanistan/chicago-summit-2012/,

[v] Daalder, Ivo, Gideon Rose, Rachel Bronson.  “Ivo Daalder Discusses the Chicago NATO Summit.” May 23, 2012. Retrieved May 26, 2012.  http://www.foreignaffairs.com/discussions/news-and-events/ivo-daalder-discusses-the-chicago-nato-summit?cid=rss-rss_xml-ivo_daalder_discusses_the_chic-000000

[vi] “The NATO Chicago Summit: Outcomes and the Way Ahead” Conference. Atlantic Council. May 24, 2012.

[vii] Bennett, John T.  “Grading Obama’s NATO Summit Performance.” U.S. News.  May 22, 2012.  Retrieved May 24, 2012.  http://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/dotmil/2012/05/22/grading-obamas-nato-summit-performance

[viii] “The NATO Chicago Summit: Outcomes and the Way Ahead” Conference. Atlantic Council. May 24, 2012.

[ix] Clinton, Hillary.  “Remarks at the North Atlantic Council Meeting.”  May 21, 2012.  Retrieved May 29, 2012.  http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2012/05/190466.htm

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