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Towards a new transatlantic consensus

Gülnur Aybet places the Istanbul Summit in its historical context, examines its contents and assesses its significance.

Intensive talks: A new transatlantic pragmatism began to emerge at Istanbul (© NATO)

Many of the omens for NATO's 17th Summit in Istanbul - the seventh since the end of the Cold War - were poor as a result of enduring differences among Allies over policy towards Iraq. Despite this, the Alliance's first Summit to take place with 26 Allies, succeeded in presenting a substantive new transatlantic agenda for cooperation. Measures agreed at Istanbul took forward the transformation process launched at the 2002 Prague Summit, reaffirming NATO's growing global role and heralding a shift of Alliance priorities in specific fields of policy. In this way, the Istanbul Summit should be remembered as a landmark in NATO's ongoing post-Cold War evolution.

In an intensive two days at the end of June, Allied leaders reinforced the enduring importance of the transatlantic link and shared transatlantic values and sought to build bridges of cooperation to other regions. They decided to expand the scope and nature of Allied operations, establishing a strong link between political commitments and access to the resources needed to meet them; took measures to continue improving Alliance capabilities to meet broader security challenges, in particular the threat posed by terrorism; and endorsed initiatives to enhance relations with existing partners, including a new regional focus on the Caucasus and Central Asia; and forge relations with new ones especially in the broader Middle East.

In many respects, a direct line can be drawn between the Istanbul agenda and the Alliance's London and Rome Declarations of 1990 and 1991 at the end of the Cold War in which Allied leaders pledged to turn the Alliance into an "agent of change" and drew up a roadmap for NATO's post-Cold War transformation. In the intervening years, the Alliance has come a remarkably long way with the 1997 Madrid, 1999 Washington, 2002 Prague and now 2004 Istanbul Summits all milestones in its adaptation and transformation to meet the security challenges of the 21st century.

Emerging new transatlantic consensus

The crisis in transatlantic relations over Iraq in 2003 not only opened a rift between the United States and some parts of Europe but also among European states. Although it would be unrealistic to assume that transatlantic relations can return to the status quo that existed before the Iraq War, a new transatlantic pragmatism began to emerge in Istanbul. This, in turn, has opened the way for a more solid partnership between the two sides of the Atlantic based on the reality of common security interests and an implementable framework for common action.

No matter how deep the disagreements over the invasion of Iraq, the current situation in that country is such that no European statesperson would wish to see it degenerate further. While ongoing unrest and instability there may provide an element of momentary vindication to those who opposed intervention, any further degeneration in conditions risks opening a plethora of security problems on Europe's doorstep. Similarly, now that Afghanistan has embarked on the long road to democracy, it cannot be abandoned to regress into a failed state and terrorist haven. On both sides of the Atlantic, there is genuine commitment to assisting the country's post-Taliban authorities.

The underlying theme of the emerging transatlantic consensus, as presented at the Istanbul Summit, is the shared perception that projecting stability beyond the Euro-Atlantic area is essential to the security of NATO member states. Commitments to Afghanistan and Iraq are a manifestation of this new consensus, which involves extending NATO's horizons beyond Europe and will oblige the Alliance to develop the capabilities to ensure that it is equipped for such operations.

Priorities beyond the Balkans

For much of the post-Cold War period, NATO has focused on forging partnerships with its closest neighbours in Central and Eastern Europe and rebuilding stability in the former Yugoslavia, both areas in which the Alliance has been successful. The processes of EU and NATO enlargement, both of which came to fruition this year, have extended the zone of stability in Europe further to the East and opened up greater opportunities for developing new partnerships with countries further away. The Alliance has also been able systematically to reduce the number of troops in the NATO-led operations in the former Yugoslavia in recent years, thereby freeing up resources for operations beyond the Euro-Atlantic area.

A new transatlantic pragmatism began to emerge in Istanbul

While the security situation in Kosovo is such that NATO is obliged to remain present with current troop levels for the foreseeable future, the Alliance was able formally to announce at Istanbul that it would be bringing its mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Stabilisation Force (SFOR), to a conclusion by the end of the year. After nine years of a substantial NATO presence in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the country is sufficiently stable to pass responsibility for many important security tasks there - including the provision of day-to-day security - to an EU force (EUFOR). The Alliance will, nevertheless, retain a military headquarters in Sarajevo, which will focus on assisting Bosnia and Herzegovina prepare for the Partnership for Peace and implement defence reform and will support the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, especially in detaining war crimes suspects. (For more on the termination of SFOR and deployment of EUFOR, see The dawning of a new security era? by Lionel Ponsard.)

New partnerships

At Istanbul, Allied leaders agreed to enhance existing partnerships within the framework of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and the Partnership for Peace; invited the seven countries participating in the Alliance's Mediterranean Dialogue - Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia - to establish a more ambitious and expanded partnership; and reached out to the broader region of the Middle East by launching the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative.

Already at the Prague Summit, the Alliance introduced Individual Partnership Action Plans and the Partnership Action Plan against Terrorism. These programmes, which are tailored to Partners' requirements and based on the principle of joint ownership, as well as the Partnership Action Plan for Defence Institution Building, unveiled at Istanbul to assist Partners build democratically responsible defence institutions, form the basic tools with which the Alliance will refocus its Partnership activities on the countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia. Allied leaders agreed to appoint a Special Representative for the whole region - since named as Robert Simmons, Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs and Security Policy at NATO - and, in due course, to nominate two liaison officers, one to be based in each area.

Partner countries and NATO should together define specific areas of cooperation where the Alliance is able to provide expertise and support. These include border security relating to illegal trafficking; transfer of small arms and light weapons; intelligence sharing; defence reform, budgeting and planning; civil-military relations; and access to training and interoperability for enabling participation in NATO-led peace support operations. This functionalist approach to partnership, developing cooperation in narrow technical areas where there is a common interest and need is designed to help Partners combat the threat of terrorism and promote regional stability and security.

By inviting the Mediterranean Dialogue countries to establish a more ambitious and expanded partnership, NATO is seeking to take its relationship with these countries beyond "dialogue" and thereby to contribute to regional security and stability through stronger practical cooperation. Likewise, the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative seeks to promote practical cooperation with interested countries in the broader Middle East, starting with the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, to enhance security and stability through a new transatlantic engagement with the region. (For more on the Mediterranean Dialogue and Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, see Opening to the Mediterranean and broader Middle East by Nicola de Santis.)

New missions

The geographic shift in the focus of NATO's partnerships is mirrored in its operations and manifested in new commitments to both Afghanistan and Iraq. In Afghanistan, where NATO has led the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) since August 2003, Allied leaders agreed to continue to expand NATO's presence in the country through the establishment of additional Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), combined civil-military teams working to extend the authority of the central government and facilitate development and reconstruction, and to provide the necessary troops and equipment for this expansion.

In the presence of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, NATO announced that it would be taking command of four new PRTs - the UK-led PRTs in Mazar-e-Sharif and Maimana, the German-led PRT in Feyzabad and the Dutch-led PRT in Baghlan - in addition to an existing German-led PRT in Kunduz. In addition to these five PRTs, NATO was to establish a logistics support base near Mazar-e-Sharif and temporary satellite presences in Sar-e-Pol, Samangan and Sherberghan. In this way, ISAF will be able to help provide security in nine Afghan provinces with an area of operations of 3,600 square km in and around Kabul and 185,000 square km in the north of the country. NATO also agreed to deploy extra troops in support of the electoral process, in the run-up to and during elections, including a quick reaction force of 1,000 troops.

In addition to committing to expand its presence in Afghanistan, NATO agreed at Istanbul to help train Iraqi security forces. This followed the unanimous adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1546, asking international and regional organisations to contribute assistance to the Multinational Force in Iraq, a request from the Iraqi government and the transfer of sovereignty in Iraq, an event that was brought forward to and partly overshadowed the morning of the Summit's first day. NATO was already providing support for the Polish-led multinational division in south-central Iraq. A Training Mission, comprising some 50 commissioned and non-commissioned officers from NATO countries, arrived in Iraq in mid-August and has already begun training selected Iraqi personnel. (For more on NATO's training mission in Iraq, see Helping stabilise Iraq by Daniel Speckhard.)

Allied leaders also tasked the Secretary General to develop further proposals to support the nascent Iraqi security institutions for consideration by the North Atlantic Council. This m

New capabilities

To rise to the challenge of the missions in Afghanistan and Iraq and possibly elsewhere beyond the Euro-Atlantic area, Allies have to continue reforming their militaries to make them rapidly deployable to distant locations and sustainable in the field. They also have to ensure that the Alliance is equipped to deal with a task as soon as the political decision is made to take it on. This has not been the case to date. Whereas ISAF's mandate was expanded beyond providing security in and around Kabul in October 2003 to cover the entire country, capability and resource shortfalls delayed the planned expansion until the Istanbul Summit.

On the other hand, NATO has made progress towards transforming the Alliance's military capabilities since the Prague Summit. It has streamlined the Command Structure and created an Allied Command Transformation to maintain the pace of reform and bring about the revolution in military affairs of other NATO countries that has transformed the way the United States is able to wage war in recent years. In accordance with the Prague Capabilities Commitment, advances have been made in strategic sea- and airlift and air-to-air refuelling as well as in the development of an Alliance Ground Surveillance System. Moreover, the NATO Multinational Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Battalion was fully operational by Istanbul and the NATO Response Force had an initial operating capability by October.

Building on initiatives agreed at Prague, NATO leaders endorsed new high-level political "usability" targets for Allied armed forces at Istanbul. In practice, this means that NATO members will in future commit themselves to deploy and sustain larger proportions of their forces on Alliance operations, thereby effectively ensuring that NATO has a permanently available pool of assets and forces. NATO also endorsed changes to its defence-planning and force-generation processes, designed to link the political agreement to launch an operation to the provision of the forces needed to carry it out.

NATO leaders also agreed to develop a package of high-tech capabilities to protect both civilians and military forces from terrorist attacks. These include defences against weapons of mass destruction; protection of aircraft against shoulder-launched missiles; protection of helicopters; protection of harbours and vessels; defences against improvised explosive devices; and improved detection of mines. (For more on NATO's high-tech anti-terrorist work, see Combating terrorism through technology by Marshall Billingslea.)

Beyond Istanbul

Given NATO's plight and the apparent rupture of political solidarity in the run-up to the Iraq campaign, it is in many ways remarkable how far the Alliance has come in the intervening period. While many initiatives launched at Istanbul are in essence enabling measures, in which Allies and Partners may or may not fully invest their efforts, the Alliance today is in better shape than most analysts were predicting little over a year ago and has an ambitious agenda for transatlantic cooperation and action, focused on enhanced and new partnerships and operations beyond the Euro-Atlantic area. In the words of Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer on the eve of the Istanbul Summit: "NATO is finally turning into a framework for transatlantic action wherever our security interests demand it."

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