NATO's upcoming summit

NATO heads of state and government will meet in Lisbon on the 19th to the 21st of November. On the agenda: approval of a new Strategic Concept document for the Alliance, including a rewrite of NATO nuclear policy; a decision on European NATO missile defence; discussion of the war in Afghanistan; relations with Russia; and other issues.

The new Strategic Concept is intended to outline the threats to NATO and the ways it should defend against them in the coming decade. Terrorism, cyber attacks, ballistic missiles, and nuclear proliferation are among the “threats” under consideration (Steven Pifer & Justin Vaisse, “Previewing Obama’s European Trip #1: The NATO Summit in Lisbon, November 19-20, 2010,” Brookings Institute, 10 November 2010).

It is expected that the document will remain stand-pat on the subject of NATO nuclear policy, incorporating a rhetorical commitment to nuclear disarmament but rejecting the recent push by Germany and several other NATO members to end the basing of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe and get rid of NATO nuclear-sharing arrangements.

Also high on the agenda will be a decision on a proposed missile-defence plan “designed to protect Europe’s population from nuclear-armed missiles the West fears Iran may acquire in coming years. The plans involve radar stations that can detect ballistic missile launches, and advanced interceptor missiles which can shoot them down” (Praveen Swami, “Turkey’s relationship with west on the line in European missile defence negotiations,” Telegraph, 11 November 2010).

The Harper government has already declared its support for this proposed system, a position that may well translate into the Canadian public helping to pay for it (Juliet O’Neill, “Canada to back European Missile Defence Program,” National Post, 20 October 2010).

Ostensibly, the Lisbon summit will spell out the purpose of NATO in the 21st century. But a wider question is not on the summit’s agenda. How meaningful is talk of a global role for NATO in the wake of its Afghanistan debacle?

Expect that question to be studiously ignored.

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Tags: Afghanistan, Ballistic Missile Defence, Defence policy, Lisbon Summit, NATO, NATO Strategic Concept, Nuclear weapons