Leading article: Nato is finally in transition, but what is it actually for?

Share
Related Topics

Leaders of the North Atlantic alliance will today conclude a two-day summit that was billed by the Nato secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, as one of the most important in its history. Held in Lisbon, it has three main agenda items: agreement on a new Strategic Concept, the war in Afghanistan, and relations with Russia, including revised plans for a missile defence system. This disparate collection of priorities can be seen either as justification for Nato's continued existence or as proof that the alliance is out of time and has lost its way.

Outwardly, Nato has changed since the Berlin Wall and communism fell. It has incorporated former East and Central European members of the Warsaw Pact and expanded – controversially – up to the Russian border. When it lent its imprimatur, and its command structures, to the war in Afghanistan, its forces were engaged in combat beyond the European theatre for the first time. But its thinking remained stubbornly the same.

It is entirely right that Nato should, belatedly, be considering exactly what, in the 21st century, it is for. Nor is it the only international organisation to have had to face new realities. But it is the one whose very nature has been most directly challenged. For 40 years, its whole reason for existing was the military threat posed by the Soviet Union and Western Europe's need for stouter defences than it could provide alone. When the division of Europe ended, so did that clear rationale.

Many of the questions to be decided at this summit should ideally have been considered in the early 1990s. In that sense, this summit is almost 20 years late. There were reasons for the delay – not least the determination of the eastern and central Europeans to join the alliance that they had seen as such an effective defence against the Soviet Union. There were the disagreements about how to handle the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the often recalcitrant stance of Russia.

Even more significant perhaps was the reorientation of policy in Washington following 9/11, which placed the threat of terrorism front and central. With Russia weak and most of Europe preoccupied with its own restructuring, many traditional concerns of the North Atlantic alliance simply slipped away. But the magnitude of the transformation that took place in the late 1980s and early 1990s surely contributed to the delay, too. It has taken a generation for these changes to be absorbed and still, perhaps, their ramifications are not fully understood.

In retrospect, this summit may be seen as finally marking the transition from Cold War to post-Cold War world. The revised plans for a Nato missile shield and the presence of the Russian President – consequences of President Obama's decision to "re-set" relations with Russia and President Medvedev's stated intention of pursuing a more Western-orientated foreign policy – bode well. But they also raise questions about Nato's purpose.

If, as sometimes appears, the problematic Afghan war is all that holds the alliance together, it is worth asking whether that war is an aberration or the shape of things to come. At best, this summit will show Nato as an alliance in transition, rather than frozen in the past. As to its future, and whether it has one as a North Atlantic defence alliance, that much bigger question will be for another day.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Maths Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher (mater...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for an ...

Maths Teacher

£22000 - £37000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: A West Yorkshire School i...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: The campaigning is over. So now we wait...

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
In this handout provided by NASA from the the Earth-orbiting International Space Station, weather system Arthur travels up the east coast of the United States in the Atlantic Ocean near Florida in space. The robotic arm of the Space Station Remote Manipulator System or Canadarm2 is seen at upper right. According to reports, Arthur has begun moving steadily northward at around 5 kt. and the tropical storm is expected to strike the North Carolina Outer Banks  

Thanks to government investment, commercial space travel is becoming a reality

Richard Branson
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week