Leading up to the NATO summit, the heads of NATO armed forces met in Brussels on April 25 to discuss the Afghan war withdrawal and other matters. Photo by Kristof Van Accom/AFP/Getty Images.
When world leaders gather this weekend at the NATO and Group of Eight summits, they have two major items on the table — wrapping up the Afghan war and handling Europe’s financial crisis. So what are the signs that they will make any progress?
We talked to Charles Kupchan, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, about what might happen at the G8 summit at Maryland’s Camp David (May 18-19) and the NATO talks in Chicago (May 20-21).
#1 An Afghan Plan
At the NATO summit, leaders will work on developing a plan for the remaining time they are in Afghanistan (until 2014) and come up with a common schedule for departure, said Kupchan. Some country heads, most recently new French President Francois Hollande, have said they want their troops to leave earlier than 2014.
But President Obama appeared to try to preempt some of the debate and set the tone for the NATO meeting when he went to Kabul earlier this month and “more or less announced that we’re witnessing the beginning of the end of the mission,” said Kupchan. “That’s what other NATO leaders want to hear” to provide them cover at home, where the Afghan war is getting increasingly unpopular, he said.
They’ll likely discuss the issue at length and try to reach a compromise on pulling out combat troops before 2014 but leaving some forces there for other purposes, he added.
#2 Pakistan and Supply Routes
On Tuesday, NATO invited Pakistan to attend the summit, which means Pakistan might announce the reopening of NATO supply routes from the port town of Karachi to Afghanistan. The invitation reportedly wasn’t contingent on Pakistan reopening the routes, but it does show the United States and Pakistan are making some progress in trying to repair relations, said Kupchan.
“If the Pakistan government decides to attend, I would expect it would entail either an announcement of the supply line opening up again or some other major step forward, because it would be awkward for Pakistan to come to Chicago without some concrete improvement in the relationship with NATO and with the United States,” he said.
Pakistan closed the supply routes after U.S.-Afghan coalition forces opened fire on two Pakistani military checkpoints in the Salala area of northern Pakistan near the Afghan border on Nov. 26, killing 24 Pakistani soldiers. Both sides said they were fired upon first.
Tanker trucks, used to transport fuel to NATO forces in Afghanistan, are jammed at oil terminals in Pakistan’s port city of Karachi. Photo by Asif Hassan/AFP/Getty Images.
U.S.-Pakistani relations already had been on shaky terms since the finding and killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on May 2, 2011. That incident further degraded trust on both sides.
The Pakistani government has said it wants the United States to end all drone strikes on suspected terrorists based in the Federally Administered Tribal Area of Pakistan and apologize for the Nov. 26 incident before reopening the supply routes.
#3 Future of NATO
NATO has learned some lessons from the Afghan war and the March 2011 operation in Libya that helped the opposition unseat Libya’s long-time leader, Moammar Gadhafi.
“NATO has a lot of activities in the Mediterranean, in the Middle East; it has partners in East Asia,” Kupchan said. “And I think there will be a focus on those activities (at the summit) because it helps send the message that NATO is globally engaged and therefore relevant to a world in which the most significant security challenges of the day are no longer in the North Atlantic zone.”
Another likely topic of discussion is the question of burden-sharing and the concern that the United States carries more than its fair share in NATO, Kupchan said. “That concern is growing now because European defense spending is declining, and because the Libya operation — even though the Europeans took the lead — exposed certain shortcomings in European defense capabilities.”
But NATO members probably won’t focus on pressuring Europe to spend more, “because that’s not going to happen anytime soon,” said Kupchan, but instead on rationalizing defense spending, pooling resources, deciding on areas of specialization and a new division of labor to get a Europe that is a more capable military partner.
Something that probably won’t be discussed is adding new members, according to Kupchan. NATO has its hands full, and the countries that are on track — Macedonia, Montenegro, Georgia and others — for various reasons are not ready to start the process of joining the international body, he said.
#4 Austerity v. Stimulus
Turning to the G8 summit (the meeting of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the UK, United States and European Commission), all long-term development projects will be set aside to focus on the more immediate problem of the European financial crisis.
French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a joint press conference in Berlin on May 15. Photo by Bertrand Langlois/AFP/Getty Images.
“I would think there will be a lot of discussion, and not a small amount of arm-twisting, between Merkel and Hollande trying to find a mix between stimulus, which Hollande wants, and austerity, which has been Merkel’s program,” said Kupchan.
Nothing concrete will come of the meeting — “It’s not as if the Obama administration is going to step up and say, ‘we’re now going to contribute X dollars to help shore up the financial situation in Europe’,” he said. “So I think it will be more about what can and should Europe be doing to find its way out of this mess.”
#5 Other Issues Ripe for Consensus
Although the European crisis will take up a lot of oxygen, other matters that could arise at the G8 summit include what to do about Iran’s nuclear program and Syria’s continued deadly crackdown on protesters.
The G8 has taken some criticism for being small and informal, and its longer-term agenda is often pushed aside by other urgent matters, said Kupchan. “But one of the strengths is when you have a smaller grouping like the G8 — mostly countries that have been allies for a long time — they can sometimes put their heads together and come up with plans that wouldn’t emerge in a more formal or larger setting.”
So the G8 will provide a good forum, for example, for a discussion about Iran’s nuclear program — the next steps for verification, the upcoming negotiations in Baghdad, and when and how to implement increasing sanctions, he said.