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Nov 19, 2010 | Events

Mid-morning, we (the two Canadian delegates) were invited for a brief chat with Prime Minister Harper, Defence Minister MacKay and Foreign Minister Cannon on Afghanistan, the Arctic, and the new NATO strategic concept (we met at the Canadian delegation’s hotel following the PM’s first meeting with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen; the leaders’ summit begins later this afternoon).  On the new strategic concept, Harper told us that he was “generally happy…[although it is a bit] vague in areas…with some blanks to be filled in later.”

MacKay remarked that he wished the UN in Afghanistan would do more of what NATO is doing (though it wasn’t clear what functions MacKay would like UN agencies or UNAMA to take on from NATO).

I shared some thoughts on my recent experience in Afghanistan, with respect to NATO/ISAF’s police and military training efforts.  I noted that even in Afghanistan’s relatively stable and comparatively violence free north, NATO training efforts have not had the success desired and envisaged in terms of building troop skills, unit professionalism and retention, to say nothing of the difficulties in training and deploying effective ANA and ANP units in Southern Afghanistan.  Despite ISAF’s increased focus on training Afghanistan’s national security forces–to which Canada’s recent announcement, ending combat operations in Kandahar next year and instead sending trainers to Kabul, will only contribute–the strategy has been far from successful.

Back at the conference site, Adm. Giampaolo Di Paola, Chairman of NATO’s Military Committee, set out what he saw as the organization’s goals: “Having partners is a strategic tool of the Alliance…[We need] a more able NATO, a more humble NATO.  Certainly the EU is one…institutional relationship, certainly not a practical one only…we cannot continue in this way (without partnerships).”

“We have no threats to our borders, within limits, the threats are out of limits.”

“Afghanistan is a recognition from the international community that we will deal with threats where they develop.”

On piracy: “That is why we are there, off the African Horn.  Why the hell are we there? Because we have collectively decided it threatens our interests.”

Re: the NATO-Russia summit: “Before Georgia, we had activities in Russia, and that was stopped.  Then we should restart that…rebuilding confidence – that’s what I expect to happen…All 29 [member states and Russia] for catching, leveraging, building, step by step, a more constructive relationship.”

On human rights violations by coalition forces: “If there are human atrocities, it is certainly not by NATO….it is a little bit of a legend that we are torturing or whatever…we uphold those values [human rights].”

Next up, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen: “You look at the world today as it is, without a Cold War hangover…in Europe today the threat of major conflict is lower than it has ever been…And both NATO and the EU can take some credit.

“We now face a range of new challenges.  New challenges that affect us all, in NATO and beyond.  Let me mention three examples.  Weak states halfway across the globe can have a direct impact on our security…It’s not just Afghanistan, terrorists based in Yemen and Sudan have also planned attacks. Second example: the steady spread of missiles.  30 countries have or are working towards missiles….And the problem is getting worse. And third example.  Cybersecurity. We all enjoy the benefits [of IT].  We take it for granted.  Our societies have become totally reliant on information technology…and the threat is growing every day.  There are millions of cyber attacks every day. These are all transnational problems, and they require multinational solutions. NATO is the preeminent multilateral security organization.  Our summit will be a step forward to this reform.  This weekend we will agree an ambitious new strategic concept that will be more effective, more engaged.  Modern capabilities to meet modern needs….”

I also expect that the Summit will agree to defend Europe against missile attack.  There is a threat.  The capabilities to defend from Europe with tested technology, and even in a time of fiscal constraint it is worth it… even though NATO is 61 years old, we will slim down, speed up and become more flexible.”

Responding to questions on the level of defence spending amongst NATO members:“What we might call the trans-Atlantic gap in terms of defence investment.  I think we have a very clear answer to economic austerity…The response to that is to cooperate and prioritize and make more efficient use of resources available…It can be bilateral agreements like the one between the UK and France.  It can be like the multilateral agreement on air transport, where several countries have pooled resources to purchase 3 C17 [transport aircraft]…It is a concern, an increasing concern…10 years ago US contributions represented 49% of NATO expenditures.  10 years later, US expenditure represents 73% of Alliance spending…[this] may cause difficulties in our trans-Atlantic cooperation.”

On missile defence cooperation with Russia: “Realistically we could not merge the two missile defence systems…tomorrow we will discuss with the Russians a joint assessment to plan the way forward on missile defence.”