Acronyms galore ride on the merry-go-round of summits

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The Independent Online
SUMMIT fever has gripped Europe. Nato wants one and France proposes a series of gatherings to discuss a new security pact.

The proposals are evidence of growing concern that international organisations set up decades ago are having a hard time adapting to life after the Cold War. In particular, the conflict in Yugoslavia has put severe pressure on many groups. But they also show the lack of any clear idea of what to do beyond holding more meetings.

The 16-nation alliance summit is likely to be in December. It will be 'an important opportunity to assess . . . how to continue to strengthen the alliance, and to adapt its agenda to the challenges of the post-war world', said Warren Christopher, the US Secretary of State. He was in Athens for a meeting of Nato foreign ministers. Nato diplomats said earlier this week the proposal reflected fears that the alliance was under pressure, and also a hope that some new departure could be made.

Once, superpower summits were the mainstay of East-West diplomacy; now they are just one element of a network of contacts, including those through Nato's 37-member North Atlantic Co-operation Council, the UN and the 53-member Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE).

At the same time France is proposing a new security arrangement for Europe, Eduard Balladur, the Prime Minister, said here yesterday. This would involve the US and Canada as well as the states of West and East Europe, he said - about 30 states in all. France wants a summit to launch the idea later this year, officials said. The proposal sounds rather like the existing CSCE.

The plethora of acronymic meetings has done little to stem the fighting in former Yugoslavia. This week EC foreign ministers met on Monday and Tuesday, met Mr Chris topher on Wednesday and then many flew to Athens for the Nato meeting. Results have been scant. Communications between many organisations are poor or non-existent. Nato used to have a Venn diagram on the wall of its Brussels headquarters explaining relationships between the organisations, but it was impossible to understand and has now been replaced.

All these organisations are fighting for a political role in the post-Cold War drama. The result is likely to be a boom for hotels and airlines and a lot of time spent in smoke-filled rooms. The Council of Europe, a 29-member body that includes Eastern and Western Europe, is to hold a special summit in October. The agenda is due to include a re-definition of its place in the European architecture, and decisions on protecting national minorities.

The United Nations is holding a special human rights summit in Vienna, which will also consider the problems of minorities. The CSCE, a body that includes the members of the EC, North America, Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, does similiar work, much of which overlaps with the Council of Europe. Ministers meet in Rome in November and may also decide to schedule a special summit, officials said yesterday, presumably because everyone else is having one.

It is tempting to ask, like P J O'Rourke, the American humorist: What would happen if they gave a summit and nobody came?