New membership and Afghanistan have taken over the agenda

By Alberto Priego Moreno (from Riga, for Safe Democracy)

Alberto Priego sums up the significance of the recent Summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Latvia, in one phrase: NATO‘s door remains open. Priego explains that the issue of new members into the organization –such as Georgia, Ukraine, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Albania, and Croatia— played an important role at the meeting in Riga, on an equal plain with discussion of the ongoing turmoil in Afghanistan. Also discussed were the possibility of Global Partnership with countries like Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and Japan, as well as the War in Iraq, international terrorism, and relations between NATO and the EU.

Alberto Priego Moreno is an expert on issues of the Caucasus and Central Asia and a researcher in the Department of International Studies at Complutense University in Madrid. He is the author of “The Evolution of conflict in Chechnya”, “The Creation of the Azerbaijani identity and its influence in foreign policy”, and “Georgia: Another Velvet Revolution?” among other publications. He has worked as a guest researcher at the East-West Institute and the Center for Euro-Asian Studies.

NATO’S DOOR REMAINS OPEN, is a sentence, which perfectly sums up the significance of the NATO Summit in Riga. Those of us, who had the fortune to attend George W. Bush’s speech at the University of Riga, understood that this sentence was the highly anticipated Riga signal for which Georgia and Ukraine had been waiting. Although no formal invitation to join NATO was issued, three countries (the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Albania, and Croatia) are already awaiting the summit of 2008 to incorporate themselves as members into the organization.

And even though Georgia and the Ukraine were not invited formally either, they enthusiastically accepted NATO’s offered support. In Georgia’s case, support for its defense of its territorial integrity, sovereignty, and independence were three clear allusions to Russian policy towards Tblisi.

Ukraine also received some encouraging support from NATO, but its situation is somewhat different. Even though the Presidency of the Republic is in the hands of the pro-western Viktor Yushenko, the head of the government belongs to the pro-slav Viktor Yanukovych. It was, perhaps, this traditional division, which made the Alliance cautious in how it addressed the Slavic country.

However, in both cases it appears that NATO is vying for power with the Russian Federation, as it has in past years over the Baltic States. The perception of contention was intensified even more by NATO’s invitation of Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia to become new partners of the Alliance under the program of Association for Peace. Russia tried, to no avail, to diminish the importance of the Riga Summit by organizing a Counter-Summit of its own, with the countries of the Community of Independent States in the ever-faithful city of Minsk.

Afghanistan was another one of the key issues addressed during the meetings. The Central Asian country is one of the principal headaches of the Secretary General of the Alliance. The North Atlantic Council pronounced words of support for President Hamid Karzai, as well as for the institutions created in post-Taliban Afghanistan.

Yet, if we listen to the criticism that NATO has received about ongoing trouble in Afghanistan, it would seem that the work of normalizing the country corresponds solely to the Alliance. What’s more, many people are waiting for the country to collapse in order to direct their blame towards NATO. Afghanistan, however, is a global issue, requiring the contributions of the entire world to find a solution.

Special allusions were made to the European Union, the World Bank, and the United Nations in order to encourage their increased participation in ensuring a stable and democratic future for Afghanistan.

There was also a good deal of talk about the incorporation of Global Partners into NATO’s framework: Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and Japan figuring among the major candidates. Yet, the type of cooperation, function, and compromises necessary for partnership remain unknown. We’ll have to wait for the next summit in order to find out exactly what these roles entail.

Other issues addressed in Riga were Iraq, international terrorism, and NATO’s relations with the EU. In each discussion, the actions taken up until now were all approved. The major distinguishing factor of this summit, therefore, was the fact that the Alliance’s door remains open.

I would not want to end this article without thanking the Latvian government for the exquisite treatment that we received while participating in the Summit in Riga. Thank you.

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