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Walker's World: Planning NATO Mark 3

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Martin Walker
Santander, Spain (UPI) Nov 8, 2010
U.S. President Barack Obama is in for a busy 48 hours in Lisbon, Portugal, at the end of this month. He has a NATO summit, a Russian summit, an Afghan summit and a European summit all in instant succession.

The NATO summit may be fruitful, although any goodwill generated by agreement on a new strategic concept for the venerable alliance could well be overshadowed by arguments and divisions over Afghanistan. The 3,000 Canadians and Dutch are leaving, the British are drawing down on their force of 9,500 and the French last week said they want their 3,500 troops out next year before President Nicolas Sarkozy faces his voters again in 2012.

Obama only has himself to blame. According to Bob Woodard's well-sourced book on the Afghan decision, it was the president who decided that July of next year was to be some kind of deadline for this war he chose to pursue. No surprise, therefore, that the NATO allies who were never exactly enthusiastic for the Afghan expedition penciled in the same sell-by date into their generals' diaries.

The NATO summit was meant to be about much more than that. First, it was about the new strategic concept, which U.S. Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder says should be seen as NATO 3.0 -- a trendy, information-era term that military men might prefer to describe as NATO Mark 3.

NATO Mark 1 was the traditional alliance as it existed throughout the Cold War, the collective defense of 15 nations against the threat of Soviet aggression. And very successful it turned out to be, prevailing in that decades-long contest without firing a shot, albeit at great expense with conscript armies and armored divisions, fleets of warplanes and navies.

NATO Mark 2 was the alliance between the end of the Cold War in 1989 and the present, a period when the fruits of the not-quite conflict were gathered. The Eastern European orphans of Stalin's wretched empire were gathered safely into the arms of the West, with Czechs and Slovaks, Latvians and Estonians, Poles and Hungarians, Romanians and Bulgarians and others all nestling in the arms of NATO and the European Union.

But at the same time, NATO finally got to fight in the tragic Balkan wars over Bosnia and Kosovo, the Luftwaffe and the Royal Air Force finally dropping bombs and flying combat patrols in the same cause. The fruits of that conflict remain elusive. One former Yugoslav province, now the tiny but independent state of Slovenia, has joined NATO and the euro and another, Croatia, may be joining the European Union within the year.

Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo and Macedonia remain problematic, all yearning to be absorbed into the NATO-EU double embrace but too poor, too corrupt and too unstable to have any early hopes of qualifying.

The EU has learned its lesson from Romania and Bulgaria, two countries that were accepted into the union before their civil service and their civil societies, their economies and their judicial systems were really ready. They remain worryingly corrupt, ranked down with China and Mexico in Transparency International's latest corruption index.

So that mixed success of NATO Mark 2 brings us to the new NATO Mark 3, which is meant to adapt the alliance for operating in a globalised world, in which security is as much about cyberspace as airspace, and more concerned with terrorism and bio-warfare and organized crime than with the Soviet Union's famed Spetznatz special forces.

"The foundation of the new NATO is the community of shared values and on that foundation stand two pillars; collective defense and cooperative security," Daalder says.

Along with the familiar benefits of NATO in common operating procedures and command systems, NATO Mark 3 will find itself forging links with new partners in the Middle East and South Asia and Africa as its navies mount anti-piracy patrols off Somalia and 140,000 troops in the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. The majority of them, some 90,000, are American, although most other NATO members have at least a small presence. Luxembourg, for example, has nine soldiers there.

There is big controversy in most NATO-member countries about the mission and whether the Afghan state of President Hamid Karzai is worth the effort, after the latest reports of bags of Iranian cash being delivered to his office. Daalder, like most of the military commanders, says the Afghan security forces are improving steadily and should be in a position from next year to take over more and more of the security mission.

"All that we know says we are moving in the right direction," Daalder explains. "We can see the corner and peek around it."

Maybe, but the pressure to withdraw or scale down their commitment is growing on most of the ISAF member governments and Obama may be left holding the baby almost alone after next July.

However satisfactory the brief summit with the Russians and Europeans may turn out to be, and whatever long-term progress is made on defining NATO Mark 3, the alliance and the U.S. president are going to be judged by the fate of an Afghan mission. And the NATO members know it cannot end in military victory and aren't even sure what would constitute success.

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