Chicago's world stage keeps getting smaller this spring.
First, the G-8 summit left town before it even got here. The NATO summit is still coming in May, but now we're being told it won't be exactly earth-shattering when it gets here.
Instead of a major announcement, such as the missile defense agreement that came out of the last summit in Lisbon in 2010, we can expect what some people are calling "an implementation summit." At least, that's the opinion of three staff members of the Atlantic Council, a 51-year-old Washington, D.C. think tank, who were in Chicago this week ahead of the summit.
Barry Pavel (John J. Kim~Sun-Times)
"This one [will be] a little less significant and historic," said Barry Pavel, the director of the council's program on international security.
The summit's agenda is pretty much set by the White House, Pavel said, and here are the three issues that the Obama administration is putting on the table:
1) Afghanistan. How do NATO and the United States avoid a rush to the exits? The plan has been to turn things over to the Afghans by 2014, but what happens after that? What will NATO's role be? What happens if the Taliban is resurgent? How will NATO prevent Afghanistan from becoming a place where a terrorist group can operate at will in an ungoverned area?
2) Partnerships. How is NATO going to arrange itself to deal with non-NATO members?
3) "Smart" defense. Defense budgets are declining all over the NATO map and there is little political support in Europe for defense spending, so the alliance's leaders are looking for ways to do more with less. They'll try to set priorities, so the important stuff still gets done, and try to get the member states to specialize in certain areas to avoid the cost of duplication. For example, the Czechs could handle calls for chemical decontamination, something they have specialized in as far back as their Warsaw Pact days. And better coordination would deter such unilateral developments as the Dutch recently getting out of the tank business without alerting NATO first.
Jeffrey Lightfoot (John J. Kim~Sun-Times)
Jeffrey Lightfoot, deputy director of the council's international security program, points out a potential twist to this year's NATO summit: France's 10-way presidential election is too close to call. A May 6 runoff is expected after an April 22 vote, which means a new president replacing Nicolas Sarkozy could be inaugurated just two days before the summit begins.
"That could be one of the more dramatic points of the summit," Lightfoot says.
Frances G. Burwell (John J. Kim!Sun-Times)
Frances G. Burwell, council vice president and director of transatlantic programs and studies, says the value of a summit can go beyond the agenda.
"Summits are important because the leadership gets to get together, she says. "I am always amazed how much personal relationships matter."
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