In spite of President Obama's high personal approval ratings
among Europeans, he did not further American interests at NATO's
60th anniversary summit last weekend.
The President was unable to secure much-needed European combat
troops for the mission in Afghanistan, and the lengthier-than-usual
summit declaration put on ice crucial agenda items such as
enlargement of the alliance and missile defense.
The summit was a quintessentially European affair, advancing
Franco-German priorities such as an EU defense identity and an
upgrading of NATO-Russian relations. And for the first time in an
official communiqué, climate change was categorized as a
safety and security issue.
Although President Obama has not formally withdrawn from the
Bush Administration's agreements with Warsaw and Prague to deploy
elements of a U.S. missile defense shield in Europe, he has sent a
series of messages signaling that he does not intend to honor these
agreements. Unlike the Bucharest declaration and the foreign
ministers' communiqué of December 2008, this weekend's
Strasbourg-Kehl declaration does not specifically endorse the
"third site" deployment of 10 interceptors in Poland and a radar in
the Czech Republic.
Speaking in Prague following the NATO summit, President Obama
gave a keynote speech focusing on complete nuclear disarmament
whereby missile defenses would be unnecessary. He went on to
condition the third site deployment on several factors, including
cost-effectiveness, workability, and a proven Iranian nuclear
threat. These subjective assessments--in addition
to the $1.4 billion in budget cuts announced by Defense Secretary
Robert Gates to the overall U.S. missile defense program--make the
European deployment hugely unlikely.
In the absence of U.S. leadership on missile defense, NATO has
produced an agenda for inaction. The Strasbourg-Kehl declaration
stated that "additional work is still required" before NATO can
advance its position on missile defense and that this issue will
not be considered until the next summit. It is clear that the alliance
is waiting on direction from the United States and that American
abandonment of the third site installations lowers the alliance's
willingness to contribute to a layered missile defense program.
Despite President Obama's spin that the Strasbourg-Kehl summit
was not a "pledging conference," the U.S. Administration's new
"surge" strategy in Afghanistan did not receive the much-needed
additional commitment of combat troops from NATO's Continental
allies. Only Britain pledged more combat troops: Up to 1,000
British soldiers will join the 8,300 others already serving,
largely in the south of Afghanistan. In total, European nations
committed just 5,000 non-combatant troops, 3,000 of whom will
deploy solely for the August election in Afghanistan.
This response does not equate to either "strong" or "unanimous"
backing for the President's new strategy on Afghanistan.
Afghanistan is the Obama Administration's stated top foreign policy
priority. Consequently, a benchmark of success during this summit
was President Obama's ability to coalesce the alliance around his
new Afghanistan strategy. Continental Europe's lack of commitments
has created a two-tiered alliance within NATO, which Secretary of
Defense Robert Gates described bluntly as "some allies willing to
fight and die to protect people's security and others who are
President Obama advanced his nuclear disarmament agenda by
proposing new strategic arms-control talks with Russia.
His Administration's policy of resetting relations with Russia was
further enhanced at the NATO summit. The summit's declaration was
explicit in strengthening the alliance's relationship with Moscow,
including measures to link NATO's missile defense programs with
Russia and introduce transparency and confidence-building
measures. The declaration also formally announced
the immediate reconstitution of the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) and
pledged to upgrade and expand relations between NATO and Russia
through the NRC.
Although Central and Eastern European nations were probably
responsible for moderating language in alternate paragraphs (for
example, criticizing Russia for its military build-up in South
Ossetia and Abkhazia) the Russia-first tone--led by America,
France, and Germany--overwhelmingly characterized the
declaration. For example, despite an endorsement of
NATO's open-door enlargement policy, Georgian and Ukrainian
accession to NATO's Membership Action Plan was not advanced at this
summit. The compromise agreed to at the Bucharest
summit, which relegates NATO-Georgian-Ukrainian relations to
commission status, will stand for the foreseeable future.
By taking both missile defense and NATO enlargement off the
agenda, President Obama has capitulated to Russian red lines as
outlined by President Dmitry Medvedev in a Washington Post
op-ed published immediately before the NATO summit.
More importantly, it represents acquiescence to Moscow's "Zone of
Privileged Interests" policy.
France's reintegration into NATO's command structures was
advanced along with an explicit endorsement of an independent
defense identity for the European Union. The declaration recognizes
the autonomy of the EU as a defense actor and promotes closer
President Nicolas Sarkozy has finally realized France's
long-term ambition: to give the EU primacy in European security
affairs. When General de Gaulle withdrew from the integrated
command structure in 1966 and ejected NATO troops from France, he
argued that separate European defense arrangements would never be
constructed while NATO existed. France's reintegration into the
command of NATO's most senior positions--France has reportedly been
given the Supreme Command, Allied Command Transformation, and the
operations headquarter, Joint Command Lisbon--puts Paris in a
position to Europeanize NATO concurrently with its construction of
EU security structures that exclude American influence
Failures and Missed Opportunities
Although President Obama proved to be popular during his
European tour, he also proved incapable of transforming that
popularity into concrete actions to further America's national
interests. He failed to secure much sought after European
commitments for Afghanistan and failed to advance difficult agenda
items during the NATO summit. During a tour where he apologized for
American arrogance, President Obama failed to demonstrate American
leadership in Europe and missed an opportunity to revitalize the
McNamara is Senior Policy Analyst in European Affairs in the
Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, a division of the Kathryn and
Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The