U.S. NATO Ambassador Previews Summit

Two weeks from today, NATO is gathering for a major summit of its 28 member states, plus Russia.  Thanks to a fellowship from Atlantic Council’s Young Atlanticist Network I’ll be reporting from the scene in Lisbon.  So it was with great interest that I had the chance to sit down with U.S. NATO Ambassador Ivo Daalder for a conversation with a small number of journalists at the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C. this morning. Josh Marshall and Steve Clemons hosted.

Ambassador Daalder outlined three key items on the agenda for this year’s summit.

First, the summit will produce NATO’s first “Strategic Concept” since the 1999. The summit, says Daalder, will adopt a succinct document “that lays out how this organization deals with reality of the world in the 21st century.”   He called the idea “NATO 3.0,”  which could be described as a something of a “post-post cold war” (my words) guidance. The two pillars of the new strategic concept, says Daalder are:

1) strengthening collective security of its members (particularly through missile defense and cyber defense collaborations);

2) looking to broaden NATO into new kinds of partnerships with emerging powers like China, India, and Brazil.

“We need to be engaged with the rest of the world,” Daalder said. “We are looking for a security dialogue.”

The second big issue on the table during the summit will be Afghanistan.   Here, Daalder was quite adamant that the administration’s strategy, unveiled by President Obama in his November 2009 West Point speech, is showing signs of success. “We are seeing the corner and we can peek around it,” he said.  “We are seeing indicators that the strategy we have embarked upon…to build up Afghan capacity…are beginning to work.”

The cornerstone of that strategy was to target the Taliban, train Afghan forces, then transfer responsibility to the Afghans, with the potential start of a draw down of U.S. forces starting in July 2011.   “We expect the conclusion to be reached [at the summit] that transition can begin by 2011.”  Still, Daalder insisted that NATO will have a long term commitment to Afghanistan  well past that date. This will take the form of a NATO-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership that will be signed at the summit.

Finally, NATO will also hold a summit with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. The “Russia-NATO Council” will meet for the first time since NATO-Russia relations hit a deep freeze following the August 2008 Georgia/Russia conflict. “We hit the reset in USA-Russia relations,” Daalder said. “We have not seen that reset between Russia and NATO.” The summit, though, provides an opportunity to improve NATO-Russia relations. And Medvedev’s decision to attend suggests that Russia is interested in improving relations.

So, that’s what is on the docket for the NATO summit. And as Daalder says, it is all going down in about 24 hours.  Should be an interesting ride!  NATO oriented readers should send me tips/ideas to undispatch-at-gmail-dot-com.