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NATO Prepares to Review the Strategic Concept | Acronym Institute

NATO Prepares to Review the Strategic Concept

Author(s): Martin Butcher
31 December 2009
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NATO Prepares to Review the Strategic Concept

NATO's summit in Strasbourg and Kehl has launched a review of the Strategic Concept - the Alliance's guiding political document. NATO's Secretary General is to convene a 'broad-based group of qualified experts' to lay the groundwork. The Secretary-General is expected to prepare a new Strategic Concept in time for NATO's next summit expected in late 2010 or early 2011.

NATO's current Strategic Concept was agreed in 1999 in the dying days of the Clinton administration and reiterated Cold War language commiting NATO to nuclear weapons as the "supreme guarantee" of Alliance security - language that has subsequently been used by proliferators in support of their nuclear programmes. The Strategic Concept maintained that allied security continued to "require widespread participation by European Allies involved in collective defence planning in nuclear roles, in peacetime basing of nuclear forces on their territory and in command, control and consultation arrangements." "Nuclear forces based in Europe and committed to NATO provide an essential political and military link between the European and the North American members of the Alliance," it continues - language that is looking increasingly dated as the allies struggle to find a common commitment to deploying troops in Afghanistan.

Whilst some within the Alliance no doubt hope that the nuclear paragraphs of the Strategic Concept will remain intact, a renewal of existing nuclear policy and doctrine would have a damaging effect on nuclear non-proliferation and appear increasingly unlikely in view of President Obama's speech in Prague committing the US to lead efforts for a nuclear weapon-free world.

The NATO Summit in Strasbourg and Kehl was convened to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Alliance. Conceived in the dying days of the Bush administration, with tensions rising in Europe and NATO in some disarray, it became the Barack Obama Summit - and the new President stamped his authority on the Alliance and began reshaping it for the 21st century.

When President Obama took power the European security situation was serious. With NATO enlargement and the proposed deployment of missile defences, the Bush administration had antagonized a resurgent nationalist Russia. Then, following Russia's summer war with Georgia (provoked by Georgian recklessness at least in part derived from a belief that America would support Georgia no matter what, a belief Bush's administration had encouraged) NATO cut off contact with Russia.

NATO was floundering in Afghanistan, with many allies doubting the mission could succeed at all. In some ways, with countries like Germany refusing to commit troops without caveats, and others refusing to deploy forces at all, this was a self-fulfilling prophecy. President Bush, a wildly unpopular lame duck was unable to do anything to get things back on track - not least because his administration had devalued NATO, preferring to do business through coalitions of the willing (as in Iraq). Coalitions that would take an American lead without demanding too much of a say in how things were run.

When Obama won the election he carried into power a tremendous fund of goodwill from European public and politicians alike. His triumphant Berlin speech during the election campaign proved he had star power. But his message, when fully understood, would not necessarily be welcome. He promised to