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November 22, 2010

I proceed with some trepidation for the NATO Summit concluded barely 48 hours ago. It is helpful that NATO is so superbly organized that all the Summit documents were made instantly available, as well as voluminous background material.

In brief, let me accord this particular NATO summit an A minus. It delivered on the most important issues before it and launched initiatives in a number of areas that will stand it in good stead in the future.

It wasn’t a complete triumph, however, for the Summit failed to rebrand itself in the public mind and missed some opportunities to move forward in areas that are of some consequence to Canada.

The highlights were these:

  1. Approval of a new Strategic Concept that articulates well the Alliance’s mission and purpose - and for the first time, I believe, outlines a vision to guide its future decisions.
  2. Agreement on a program to protect not just NATO deployed forces but also NATO populations and territories from attack by ballistic missile. With the plans now in place, every NATO country has taken a decision to protect itself from ballistic missiles except Canada.
  3. A transition plan for Afghanistan that will see Afghan forces assume increased responsibility for their own security, with a view to their leading, and conduction of, security operations in all provinces by the end of 2014.
  4. A new beginning with Russia. There have been others:this one looks promising. The Russians appear to have turned a page, in that their fear of NATO has diminished sufficiently for them to contemplate cooperation on such a neuralgic issue as BMD, to expand their engagement with NATO nations on other issues and to increase their support for NATO’s operations in Afghanistan.

These are remarkable achievements - and stand in stark contrast to the sterile pronouncements and empty achievements so often associated with the United Nations. It’s a good thing, in this day and age, that there is an organization as responsible and effective as NATO in the field of international relations and security.

These achievements were good for Canada to.

But I should point out that there is still a question that needs to be answered: Is NATO becoming a European security organization with a couple of North American add-ons? This may not matter much to the United States, but it matters greatly to Canada.

Why do I ask the question? Because the Alliance’s Euro-centric dimensions were very much evident in Lisbon, because the commitment of Europeans to expeditionary operations remains suspect and because the financial arrangements for funding the organization still hugely disadvantage Canada.

Paul Chapin is a recently retired Canadian diplomat with extensive service.

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