Nato's struggle for relevance in a post-Cold War world may not have been on the agenda at its conference. Given the decisions that emerged from the summit, however, it appeared to be the meeting's unspoken priority.
Nuclear shield is more of a smokescreen
Nato's struggle for relevance in a post-Cold War world may not have been an item on the agenda at its conference in Lisbon at the weekend. Given the decisions that emerged from the summit, however, it appeared to be the meeting's unspoken priority.
The leaders who gathered in Portugal drafted a new mandate, described as "Active Engagement, Modern Defence", which refocuses Nato's priorities. But the decision that grabbed most of the headlines was how Nato officials gave a green light to an unproven and outdated concept of missile defence.
The move, while in line with Nato's goal of deterring military and security threats to member-states, nevertheless seems an anachronism. In this era, security is no longer defined by a zero-sum struggle between superpowers. Russia is of course a partner of the alliance. In a multipolar environment where threats are more likely to emerge from extremists that do not answer to any country, the defence shield appears more of a last-ditch effort to, as the secretary general of Nato Anders Fogh Rasmussen said, "bind the Nato allies closer together".
This is not to say that Nato's attempts to deter nuclear proliferation are not needed. Indeed, as Iran continues its opaque nuclear pursuit, deterrence and defence remain a pressing concern for Nato members and partners such as the UAE. Russia and the US also have a role to play in realising Nato's goals but the US Senate has yet to ratify a treaty that would reduce US and Russian nuclear stockpiles. Such a move, as Nato officials stressed this weekend, would strengthen global alliances and bolster European security.
As Nato seeks to redefine itself against evolving security threats, it will have to get its hands dirty on issues that do not carry the same broad-based consensus as nuclear proliferation or offer the same rewards. The struggle in Afghanistan, the threat of terrorist groups and rogue states, and the growing danger of cyber-warfare are but a few issues that the organisation has pledged to tackle. While Nato's desire to adapt is commendable - and some would say overdue - it remains to be seen if the organisation will deploy enough resources or demonstrate a sufficient commitment to meet the challenges its members face today.