STRASBOURG, France — The 60th anniversary summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization wrapped up Saturday with agreement on the way forward in Afghanistan, if not a major European troop contribution.
A hard-fought consensus was found on a new secretary general, with Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen immediately promising to take up the cause of NATO’s “transformation.”
The Afghan mission is at the heart of that debate.
Departing secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer announced more training resources for
Afghanistan’s police and army, “the forces necessary” to support this summer’s Afghan elections and aid for the troubled country, including a trust fund to maintain an enlarged Afghan military.
In Washington, the White House said the allies have agreed to send up to 5,000 more military personnel to Afghanistan.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said about 3,000 of the personnel will be on short-term deployments, sent in to provide security before the elections. Another 1,400 to 2,000 will provide training for Afghanistan’s national army.
“If we don’t get the security around the elections right, a lot of the other things we want to do won’t matter,” Gibbs said.
Leaders from 28 member countries spent about 24 hours on the French-German border discussing the future of the military alliance and came away claiming success.
Rasmussen won out as the next leader after a long, heated internal debate with Turkey. The Turks were upset with Rasmussen’s handling of a cartoon controversy in 2006 that offended the Muslim world.
U.S. President Barack Obama, attending his first NATO conference, heralded the decision to review NATO’s ’strategic concept’ as pushing the alliance to look beyond the end of the Afghan mission.
Debate over NATO’s mission in Afghanistan was central to the weekend summit — and will dominate the ongoing negotiations over defining whether NATO’s future role should focus on the defence of Europe or expeditionary missions elsewhere.
Albania and Croatia were formally accepted as the alliance’s 27th and 28th countries.
“It’s a measure of our vitality that we are still welcoming new members,” said Obama.
Further expansion is anticipated, he said, mentioning Macedonia by name but leaving unsaid Georgia and Ukraine, whose NATO membership would deeply alarm Russia.
Canada, which has employed the most aggressive rhetoric against Russia of any NATO member of late, is also pushing for expansion.
But most European members, notably France and Germany, worry of the damage further growth into former Soviet bloc countries will do to a NATO rapprochement with Russia.
It’s a fundamental issue for the alliance’s future.
“There is a clear shared view in this alliance,” said de Hoop Scheffer. “We must co-operate with Russia and we want to co-operate with Russia.”
European members fret that the Afghanistan mission could drain NATO’s ability to meet it’s founding 1949 raison d’etre: a common bulwark against Moscow-based political and military pressure.
The day began with German Chancellor Angela Merkel leading 27 NATO leaders, including Harper, across a footbridge over the Rhine River from Germany to France, to be met midway by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
The bridge walk represented France’s return to full membership in the NATO military command after a self-imposed 43-year absence, while also symbolizing European unity.
Unity was a pressing theme for the 60th anniversary summit.
Obama came with his plan for dramatically ramping up NATO’s Afghanistan mission in a bid to get ahead of an insurgency that appears stronger rather than weaker after seven years of conflict.
Reluctant European countries made a show of promising additional police trainers and development aid — but fresh troop commitments were extremely modest compared to Obama’s plan to add 21,000 U.S. soldiers to the 38,000 Americans already on the ground there.
Eager to put the best face on the alliance’s 60th anniversary, leaders stressed their common, look-forward desire to revamp NATO’s mandate.
Obama stressed the importance of setting out a new NATO “strategic concept,” given that the last such revision took place in 1999, before the terror attacks of 9-11, 2001, that sparked the invasion of Afghanistan.
There are “a whole host of hot spots” bedevilling the West beyond Afghanistan, Obama said in Baden-Baden, Germany.
“We’ve got to figure out what is NATO’s role in that.”
Canada came into the summit also expressing the need to revamp and clarify NATO’s mission statement for the 21st century to include threats from piracy and cyber-terrorism.
Protests were loud and vigorous around the summit site. Black-clad protesters attacked police and torched a hotel and a customs building near the bridge the leaders had earlier used for their symbolic walk.
But with about 15,000 German police and 9,000 French gendarmes on call, security forces dwarfed the number of protesters.
Across the Rhine from Strasbourg in the German city of Kehl, about 2,500 protesters gathered peacefully with banners that said: “Millions for Peace Not Billions for War.”