Reinventing NATO

ROME – This month, NATO will hold its next summit in Chicago. Unlike European Union summits, which take place almost monthly, NATO’s are infrequent. This helps to explain the inflated rhetoric that surrounds them: the November 2010 summit in Lisbon, for example, was described as nothing less than “the most important in NATO’s history.” Will the Chicago summit prove to be an exception to this rule?

For a while, that seemed likely, with the meeting initially billed as an “implementation summit,” at which NATO’s political leaders would focus on assessing the progress of the ambitious agreements reached in Lisbon. But four political developments that have modified the international security agenda are likely to transform Chicago into a high-profile summit in its own right.

First, the revolutions in the Arab world and NATO’s military intervention in Libya have refocused the alliance’s attention on the Middle East and Northern Africa. Second, the international financial crisis will have an immense impact on NATO members’ defense budgets. Third, in a speech last June, outgoing US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates revived the debate on transatlantic burden-sharing and solidarity within the alliance.

Finally, the first NATO summit to be held in the United States in 13 years is taking place not only in an election year, but also in President Barack Obama’s hometown. The Obama administration is therefore particularly interested in summit “deliverables” – outcomes that can be announced as major successes.