National Security Network

The Lisbon Summits

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Report 19 November 2010

Diplomacy Diplomacy europe NATO russia

This weekend President Obama is in Lisbon for a series of crucial international summits with NATO, NATO-Russia and the European Union.  These transatlantic meetings will have a direct bearing on American national security, specifically as it relates to Afghanistan, Iran, nuclear weapons, missile defense, Russia and overall NATO strategy.  Despite positive momentum leading into these meetings, as symbolized by the U.S.-Russia "reset," which restored relations from their post-Cold War nadir in 2008, new strains are emerging, particularly those being caused by partisan politics in the U.S. Senate.  Specifically, while the president is abroad pursuing America's interests, those playing politics at home are actively attempting to undermine them.  As the Washington Post reports this morning on the New START nuclear agreement between our two countries, "Russians are mystified. They can't quite believe that the U.S. Senate might fail to ratify the nuclear arms treaty, and they see no good from such an outcome. The list of possible harmful effects they cite encompasses a minefield of global concerns: no more cooperation on Iran, a setback for progressive tendencies in Russia, new hurdles for Russian membership in the World Trade Organization, a terrible example for nuclear countries such as China and India, dim prospects for better NATO relations. And to top it off, the United States and its president would look ridiculous."  America's security and interests should outweigh political positioning at home, and while the president is in Europe promoting American interests, partisan politicians in Washington make achieving this goal much more difficult.

Here are the key issues that will be discussed at the summits.

U.S.-Russia relations and the success of the reset. The reset of U.S.-Russian relations over the past two years has resulted in concrete and significant returns.  As Dr. Samuel Charap, a Russia expert at the Center for American Progress, recently wrote in Current History, two years "a war broke out between Russia and Georgia that almost shattered the relationship and could have led to US-Russia military confrontation." However, the Obama foreign policy team "recognized that it would be impossible to address core threats to American national security (ranging from the proliferation of nuclear materials to climate change) or to realize key foreign policy priorities (such as stabilizing Afghanistan) without a constructive and substantive US-Russia relationship," and today, "the state of US-Russia relations is better than it has been at any point in the past decade." As a result, there the relationship has proven fruitful to advancing U.S. interests in the world.  Perhaps most significant has been Russia's support for the United Nations sanctions on Iran.  However, there has also been significant cooperation regarding sanctions on North Korea and maritime interdiction of cargo ships, as well as the Nuclear Security Summit held in Washington.  Russia has also been central to facilitating logistics, intelligence sharing and cooperation on Afghanistan.  Just today, the Wall Street Journal reports that, "Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will sign an agreement with the leaders of the NATO alliance on Saturday aimed at expanding the use of supply routes through Russia into Afghanistan, as part of an effort to improve ties between the former antagonists," and that leaders will "investigate ways in which they can cooperate on defenses against the dangers posed by ballistic missiles."

However, the Journal goes on to report that, "The effort to warm relations threatens to be set back by delays in the U.S. in ratifying the Start arms-control treaty, which is aimed at reducing numbers of the two countries' strategic nuclear arsenals. A key Republican senator, Jon Kyl of Arizona, said Tuesday that he wouldn't support ratifying the treaty this year, delivering a blow to a central White House foreign-policy objective." [Samuel Charap, Current History, 10/10. WS Journal, 11/19/10]

NATO's new strategic concept for the 21st century. Voice of America reports that, "NATO is expected to unveil a new ‘strategic concept' to address global security concerns that have drastically shifted since the alliance last revised its mission 11 years ago.  The new focus of the 28-member Western military alliance was drafted by a group of experts led by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.  A former U.S. ambassador to NATO, Robert Hunter, says the evolution of security challenges over the last decade from territorial disputes to global terrorism, cross-border crime and cyber threats has shaped the new focus of the organization." As Secretary Albright told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in May, "the Alliance must continue to treat collective defense as its core purpose," but, "Between now and 2020, the Alliance will face a new generation of dangers from sources that are geographically and technologically diverse.  These threats include violent extremism, nuclear proliferation, cyber assaults and attacks on energy infrastructure and supply lines." [VOA, 11/19/10. Madeleine Albright, 5/20/10]

U.S.-Europe relations are vital to U.S. interests and are not being "abandoned."  Transatlantic relations are widespread and a strong partnership is vital to America's interests.  From cooperation on the global economy to intelligence sharing and combating terrorism financing, the U.S.-European cooperation has proven vital.  In fact on Iran, Europe has put even stricter sanctions in place than the U.S.

Meanwhile, neoconservatives and other critics of the administration have been arguing that the Obama administration has abandoned our allies in Europe.  However, as Samuel Charap points out, that is wrong and displays a fundamentally flawed view of global politics: "This abandonment narrative is profoundly misleading. It alleges that the United States has neglected Europe when in fact on the ground the Obama administration has engaged on key issues and pushed key policy shifts that have directly boosted Europe's security. It also reflects a zero-sum understanding of security on the continent-a fundamental misreading of post-Cold War international political dynamics. Specifically, it ignores the fact that a hostile relationship between the United States and Russia is itself perhaps the greatest threat to European security."

Just today, Polish Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski writes: "[M]y government supports the ratification of New START, because we believe it will bolster our country's security, and that of Europe as a whole." He closed by clearly stating, "Poland supports ratification of this vitally important treaty." [Samuel Charap, 11/16/10. Radosław Sikorski, 11/19/10]

NATO strategy for the transition to Afghan responsibility. "President Barack Obama pledged Friday that U.S. forces would stand by Afghanistan even after NATO-led troops hand control of the fight against Taliban insurgents to Afghan forces in 2014," reports AFP. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen explained the policy, saying, "We'll announce that the transition to Afghan responsibility is about to start, in 2011. We hope this process will be completed by 2014." This policy speaks to all players in the conflict, writes the LA Times: "To a war-weary European constituency: There's an exit strategy. To a conflicted American public, whose troops are bearing the brunt of rising battlefield casualties: Things are going better militarily, but it will still take some time. To Afghan President Hamid Karzai: Please watch what you say. And to the Taliban: Don't get your hopes up." [AFP, 11/19/10. LA Times, 11/18/10]

Working to create a common Euro-Atlantic missile defense. "The heads of state are anticipated to determine whether to officially include missile defense among NATO objectives, paving the way for an initiative to integrate and augment the protective systems of member states," writes Global Security Newswire. "An Obama administration plan to gradually field land- and sea-based missile interceptors around Europe would be incorporated into NATO missile defense plans. A draft of the organization's new mission statement reportedly calls for shield infrastructure to be deployed in Romania, Poland and Turkey. Specific agreements for moving forward on joint missile defense are not anticipated to come out of the summit, according to analysts. Rather, it is more likely the two sides would lay the groundwork for additional defense talks. ‘If we succeed in establishing cooperation on missile defense, we can create a common security roof covering all European territory and this would create a common Euro-Atlantic security architecture,' the NATO secretary general said." [Global Security Newswire, 11/18/10]

What We're Reading

President Barack Obama launched a bipartisan blitz to make the case that Senate ratification of his nuclear arms-control treaty with Russia this year is a national security imperative.

New satellite images show construction under way at North Korea's main atomic complex, apparent proof that Pyongyang is making good on its pledge to build a nuclear power reactor.

In Iraq, a new government is beginning to emerge, but much uncertainty still exists.

Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro appeared to endorse the reforms launched by his brother, Raul, who has announced the dismissal of 500,000 public employees, an expansion of private economic activity and massive cuts in state subsidies.

Experts dissecting the computer worm suspected of being aimed at Iran's nuclear program have determined that it was precisely calibrated in a way that could send nuclear centrifuges wildly out of control.

A coup attempt in Madagascar appeared to be foundering as the military officers who claimed to be taking over the country instead spent the day in their barracks.

With alarming frequency, narcotics violence is spilling into hospitals and clinics across Mexico.

The U.S. military is sending a contingent of heavily armored battle tanks to Afghanistan for the first time in the nine-year war, a shift that signals a further escalation in the aggressive tactics that have been employed by American forces this fall to attack the Taliban.

French and German officials are pressing Ireland to increase its low corporate tax rate in return for an aid package, setting the stage for a showdown over a policy long resented by Dublin's European partners.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he is close to reaching an understanding with the United States on a package of incentives Washington will offer in exchange for a one-time, 90-day construction freeze on Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Commentary of the Day

Morris Davis explains why the Ghailani decision, despite the instant reaction to the contrary, has placed a tougher punishment on the terrorist while upholding American judicial principles.

Morton Abramowitz believes that even if South Sudan is able to peacefully split from Khartoum, the worst is still ahead for Darfur.

President Obama writes that Europe remains the United States closest ally, economically, culturally and militarily.