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March 6, 2021

NATO and post-Chicago Europe

The NATO Summit hosted by the city of Chicago at the end of last week and the beginning of this week (May 20-21) undoubtedly focused the attention of political observers, be it only because it was held in the USA, right after the Camp David meeting of the “big eight” (G-8), which approached the essential problems of the evolution of the international system of states – from the solution to the European financial crisis to the situation of Syria or the Iranian nuclear dossier, without underestimating food safety or the global warming process. Apart from this unique succession – a global reunion of the planet’s “heavyweights” without China and India, followed by another one, of the Western military and political alliance – there were also other situations and expectations that sent to the spotlight the American metropolis which hosted the meeting.One of these matters of interest is represented by the questions that expect an answer during the meeting of the 28 leaders of the Western alliance (Russia sent an insignificant delegation, in terms of decision-making, despite its special relation with NATO). And, to emphasise the importance of this summit, I would mention three such questions. First: Is NATO still relevant today, as its main pillar, the USA, shifted its interest towards Asia, as global strategic priority? The second is about the stage reached by the NATO anti-missile shield decided ever since 2008 Summit of the Alliance, held in Bucharest. Last, but not least, where is the Alliance headed to, as it was initially focused on a region of Europe, then expanded its interest towards an indefinite “out of area” and finally it attempted to expand, via strategic partnerships with pivotal regional powers in the global areal, towards a planetary coverage?So, what impact will have on the alliance the US decision to shift towards Asia as global strategic priority? If there existed – and still exist – doubts over the fact that Europe still has relevance as ally of the USA, even after losing its strategically central position held during the Cold War, Chicago however cast away most of them. Of course, American decision makers – mostly the military – often voice criticism over Europe’s contribution to common operations – from Afghanistan to Libya in 2011 – and demand the European allies to increase their military expenses, so that NATO becomes a relevant alliance of the Western World in the 21st Century. Such criticism however did not end in blaming the very existence of NATO as a transatlantic alliance necessary to the West – as a whole – in order to face the challenges of this century. Moreover, the North-Atlantic Alliance repeatedly demonstrated its credibility and usefulness. If we referred to the recent Libyan episode, but also to the previous Balkan conflicts, or the joint effort in Afghanistan, it would still be enough to affirm that NATO is not bound for an inevitable disappearance or an irrelevance determined by the lack of a common will aimed at acting towards international stability beyond the initial area of competence. To be better understood, it is worth mentioning that Europe is the first interested in the existence of a strong and performing NATO, be it only because of the large-scale crises that succeed each other in its vicinity, which require a rapid and convincing answer. The contradictory process that began in the Middle East with the ‘Arab Spring’ or the emergence of a nuclear Iran, along with non-conventional threats like cyber-attacks, terrorism, organised crime or energy vulnerabilities are as many challenges to which Europe cannot provide an answer on its own. Only in close cooperation with the USA, by generating performance throughout the alliance – this objective was dedicated, at the Chicago summit, the assuming of the ‘smart defence’ concept, which means that several states associate their military capabilities, in view of determining an efficient answer to the challenges of the security environment – can Europe still have a say in the 21st Century, as a global actor.If, on the other hand, there were – and still exist – fears in Europe that the US will get disconnect from the Old World, once it adopts the new doctrine with emphasis on Asia, they were cast away by the signing, in Chicago, of a strategic partnership between NATO and the EU, which formalised an already existing strategic relation. Analyst Daniel Keohane recently wrote: “But European security remains important for the United States/…/ NATO, therefore, will continue to matter for US defence policy. Europeans should stop worrying about US disengagement from Europe, and think harder about their engagement with the world.”The same conclusion is suggested by the answer to the second question. The NATO missile shield sparked a significant debate. The NATO shield is not identical to its US equivalent, and harmonising the two defence systems is already an objective of the near future. But both military installations of the Western World provoked the hostile reaction of Russia. Although it was invited to join the European anti-missile shield, Moscow’s exigencies and insufficient commitment to its own contribution, along with its vision of the defence system delayed this objective. Furthermore, days before the Chicago Summit, Moscow threatened with using the “first strike” against the anti-missile installations of the West, in order to keep the parity in terms of strategic weapons and its capacity to respond a nuclear strike. Still, in Chicago, the allies reiterated their continuous openness for cooperation with Russia, while also declaring the conclusion of first phase of rendering the NATO anti-missile shield operational. The second phase will be reached towards the end of the decade, when the interceptor missiles will be installed in Romania and Poland. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Sunday, May 20, that the NATO missile shield has “interim capability” – a first step towards the goal of “covering” the entire European territory of the Alliance in 2018. The final phase of operationalization will be reached in 2022. This ‘interim capability’ is mainly installed and operated by the USA, and in Chicago, the Obama Administration transferred the operational control over parts of it to NATO. Meanwhile, other European allies pledged to contribute about USD 1 bln to the required infrastructure.Eventually, the answer given in Chicago to the question about the future of NATO is an optimistic one. Of course, an agreement has been reached over transferring the responsibility for the security in Afghanistan to local forces, and the withdrawal of allied and partner troops from this country in 2014, but the alliance mentioned that it will continue to contribute to optimising the capabilities of local forces so they can do their missions. Many European member states have reduced their military expenses in the context of the crisis spreading through Europe, but this does not mean that NATO cannot face the increasing challenges, and implementing the ‘smart defence’ concept will update the capacity of the alliance to the necessary standards. The young generation is becoming ever more aware of the need to firmly defend its values and ideals. In the words of an American expert (Ivo Daalder): “For us to continue to make sure that this alliance remains as vibrant and as ready and fit for purpose as possible, we must come together [in Chicago] in order to address the pressing problems of our day. So we want to showcase not only our partnerships but our strength of NATO as a hub of security.”Obviously, the Chicago Summit demonstrated that NATO remains indispensable for the future, as a global source of security, and in this context the transatlantic connection, the indestructible relation between Europe and North America represents the basis of this essential role.

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