Nato at 60: What you need to know

The leaders of the member nations claimed victory on several fronts, and there were important developments. But are they quite as united as they professed? David Usborne and Jane Merrick analyse the issues

Sunday 05 April 2009 00:00
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The deal came after intense pressure on Nato states for greater burden-sharing for the Afghanistan mission. When he arrived in Strasbourg on Friday, Gordon Brown offered up to 1,000 troops, also on a temporary basis, in an attempt to bounce fellow leaders into contributing. But co-host Nicolas Sarkozy rejected out of hand any military commitment from France – which overshadowed the start of the summit. The troops will be restricted to peacekeeping operations.

A Nato source said each country was offering a few hundred troops, taking the total temporary surge close to the 4,000 Hamid Karzai has said was needed to ensure the smooth running of the elections. But the deal falls far short of the permanent commitment that Barack Obama wanted to help the US surge in Afghanistan. The US President has pressed Gordon Brown for 2,000 to 3,000 in the country permanently.

British commanders were happy to accede, but there was stiff opposition within the Government, including the Treasury, which blocked the move on cost grounds.

Some 152 British soldiers have died in Afghanistan, and the fresh deployment will fuel fears that many more lives may be lost. But Mr Brown will defend the plans by insisting that ensuring Afghan elections are not disrupted by the Taliban is directly linked to security on the streets of Britain.

Women's rights

Afghan President Hamid Karzai yesterday ordered a review of a controversial law that, critics claim, makes it legal for men to rape their wives. Gordon Brown and Hillary Clinton, both attending the Nato summit, raised the issue in telephone calls with Mr Karzai. The President agreed to send the law back to the Afghan Ministry of Justice for review if it is found that women's rights are violated.

Mr Karzai said if anything in the law contravened the country's constitution or sharia, "measures will be taken". The legislation is intended to regulate family life inside Afghanistan's Shia community. But the United Nations Development Fund for Women said it "legalises the rape of a wife by her husband". One of the law's most controversial articles stipulates the wife "is bound to preen for her husband as and when he desires". "As long as the husband is not travelling, he has the right to have sexual intercourse with his wife every fourth night," Article 132 of the law says. "Unless the wife is ill or has any kind of illness that intercourse could aggravate, the wife is bound to give a positive response to the sexual desires of her husband." One provision also appears to protect the woman's right to sex inside marriage, saying the "man should not avoid having sexual relations with his wife longer than once every four months".

Meanwhile, Italy said yesterday that it could withdraw its female troops stationed in Afghanistan to protest against a new law for the country's Shia minority that has been attacked as a blow to women's rights.

North Korea

Dull and windy weather may have persuaded North Korea to delay at least for one day its plans to launch a long-range missile, but it was a big help to the leaders of Nato, who would not have welcomed the eruption of a new international arms crisis in the middle of their summit in Strasbourg.

US officials did not see any reason to suppose that the missile firing would go ahead on another day, perhaps as early as this morning, assuming conditions improve at the launch site even as President Barack Obama continued to warn the regime in Pyongyang to desist or face rebuke.

Mr Obama has used the summits here and in London last week to lobby allies to show a united face in the event the missile firing goes ahead. It is likely he would refer the issue to the UN Security Council. China has not yet signalled, however, that it would support a sanctions resolution.

Pyongyang's apparent determination to go ahead with the launch of a civil satellite into orbit could trigger Mr Obama's first major international crisis. Japan has served notice that it will shoot down the missile or any parts of it if its territory comes under threat, and the US has said nothing to discourage Tokyo from carrying out the threat.

Senator Jim Webb, who chairs a US Senate subcommittee on East Asia, played down the significance of a firing. "I don't see a high probability that there will be an international confrontation," he told Bloomberg News in Washington. Japanese government sources reported yesterday that it had detected a launch of the missile but within moments withdrew the bulletin saying it had been mistaken. The US has deployed four ships to the region to monitor any launch. Of particular interest will be the steepness of the missile's climb, which will help intelligence experts to determine quickly whether it is carrying a satellite or not.

Russia

The alliance pledged yesterday to deepen co-operation with Moscow even after several years of growing tensions with the Kremlin leadership. "We will co-operate with Russia and we must co-operate with Russia because we share common security interests," Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, Nato's outgoing secretary-general, said at the summit's close. "We think that this relationship can deliver more than it does now if all parties take the necessary steps."

Nato leaders yesterday welcomed two more members from Eastern Europe – Albania and Croatia – and hardly needed reminding that its recent expansion has not pleased Russia. Indeed, in London last week for the G20 summit, President Dmitry Medvedev again signalled his government's discomfort with the creeping borders of the alliance. "Before making decisions about expanding the bloc, one must think about the consequences," he said. "I said this frankly to my new comrade, US President Barack Obama. Nato needs to think about preserving its unity and not harming relations with its neighbours."

While Mr Medvedev has proposed a new security alliance tying together Russia, the rest of Europe and North America, a third option half on the table would be to invite Russia into the Nato fold, a possibility that was aired on the eve of the Nato summit by Poland's Foreign Minister, Radoslaw Sikorski. "We need Russia for the resolution of European and global problems," Mr Sikorski told a group of journalists. "That is why I think it would be good for Russia to join Nato."

The question of Georgia remains a stumbling block. Nato leaders pressed Russia to pull troops out of the seperatist Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, saying withdrawal was crucial to the EU-brokered peace agreement that ended last summer's war between Russia and the former Soviet republic. Nato also wants Russia to reverse its recognition of the two breakaway regions as independent states. Russia, meanwhile, continues to regard Nato's support for Georgia during the conflict as having been "unacceptable" and opposes plans to grant it membership.

France's reintegration

France is rejoining Nato's military command structure following a 43-year absence. While the move will have little practical impact because Paris has formally remained a member of the alliance throughout this period, the assembled leaders will consider granting France two important command posts: one in Norfolk, Virginia, responsible for defining the strategic transformation of the alliance, and another in Lisbon, Portugal.

Silvio Berlusconi

Italy's Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, is fast becoming the wilful guest at international gatherings. Fresh from his noisy annoyance of the Queen in London, he created a stir yesterday by making the German Chancellor wait. Mr Berlusconi was seen chatting on his mobile phone as he got out of his car on the German side of the Rhine before a symbolic walk across the Europa Bridge that links Germany and France. In images shown live on European television stations, Mr Berlusconi appeared to gesture to his phone to Angela Merkel, as if to explain why he wasn't proceeding with other Nato leaders to be greeted by her. A visibly perplexed Ms Merkel eventually went ahead without Mr Berlusconi, who walked towards the bank of the river as he talked on the phone instead of joining the other heads of government.

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