Chicago was an appropriate setting for the NATO summit this year. Not necessarily because it is President Obama’s home town. More so because Chicago’s nickname is the windy city and there were several cross winds blowing across the gathering of an alliance struggling with its means and ends.
The main agenda item was the future of Afghanistan after a decade of efforts to secure that future. The fact that the new French President Francois Hollander is pulling his French troops out this year as opposed to the 2014 goal set by President Obama and the alliance − was downplayed at the summit. However, it did serve as a reminder about the impact of domestic politics when it comes to maintaining an alliance consensus. We will be seeing more of that as Europeans and Americans struggle with an unpredictable economic future while trying to pursue a common alliance strategy.
Following Chicago, the questions remaining involve how much support for Kabul will be forthcoming as the transfer of responsibility to the Afghan army for security in the war-torn state begins in 2013. The war weariness is widespread throughout the NATO members and it is matched by the uncertainty of Afghan President Karzai’s ability to sustain a viable and credible government, as well as the stability of his country.
Germany restated its commitment to stay the course to 2014, adding further promises to provide support beyond the military departure. Chancellor Merkel affirmed the “in together, out together” mantra which has been the slogan in getting to the goal of concluding the alliance’s military presence. Yet a problem the Chancellor faces is that the mantra is just as relevant in Berlin as it is in NATO headquarters in Brussels.
Even as Chancellor Merkel faces significant headwinds in dealing with the economic crisis in Europe, she is demonstrating continuity of commitments to NATO. Most of Merkel’s headaches are generated by the euro crisis these days and they are bound to get worse in the coming months. Keeping a clear profile with the NATO dimension of her portfolio is perhaps an advantage, since she is also encountering the same cluster of people under that roof as in the euro mess.
That said, following the backlash against Germany’s decision not to engage in the action in Libya, questions about Germany’s ability to offer “deliverables” in the future still remain. That decision was a call that Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle made − but Merkel backed him up. Since then, the Libya experience has been illustrative of the challenge of getting an operative consensus in the alliance.
The fact that decisions involving the deployment of German military resources remain in the control of the federal Parliament places constraints on the Chancellor’s running space. Any suggestions that defense policy decisions be made without Parliamentary approval generate quick rebuttals from the Bundestag.
Yet, in a time of financial austerity in all NATO member countries, pooling resources is not only a military necessity. It also will involve pooling decision-making in order to apply those resources whenever the need for them might emerge. That raises a core issue of sovereignty and NATO has yet to figure out how to thread those needles.