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Commentary | 5 March 2012

Defining Success for Chicago: A Turkish Perspective

Image of Sinan Ulgen

Sinan Ulgen |Chairman, EDAM think tank, Istanbul and Visiting Scholar, Carnegie Europe

Defence NATO Security Transatlantic relations Turkey Euro-Atlantic Security

Defining Success for Chicago: A Turkish Perspective

The Chicago NATO Summit will be taking place against the backdrop of an almost irresistible tendency of US retrenchment from Europe and the wider Middle East. The US has already pulled back its troops from Iraq. The engagement in Afghanistan is slated to come to an end in 2014. Washington seems to have found the formula for limiting the scope of its engagement even under crisis conditions. As the Libya operation has demonstrated, “Leading from behind” seems to have caught the attention and support of many in the US administration. For many, the Chicago summit will signal the end of the transatlantic dominion and usher in the much heralded “Pacific Century”.

The success of the Chicago Summit will therefore be determined by its ability to cement the transatlantic partnership at a time when the US attention is drifting westward and the European attention inward. The Euro crisis is sapping the political capital of many EU leaders. There is very little talk about the security partnership with the US. On the contrary, in Europe, the focus is on assessing the impact of current and future austerity measures on regional and global security. The Chicago Summit has to address the consequences of this unfavorable environment. It should conclude with a stronger than expected commitment to the transatlantic partnership.

The second measure of success for Chicago relates to the unity of vision regarding the future of the Alliance. Since the end of the Cold War, NATO has been able to take advantage of two fundamental dynamics: enlargement and large scale operations. This era has now ended. There is no enlargement on NATO’s near term agenda. The few aspirant countries will not fundamentally alter this observation. Also large scale operations (Kosovo, Afghanistan) are likely to absent from NATO’s playbook in the foreseeable future. As a result, the Alliance needs to find a new dynamic to maintain its cohesion.

The answer was tentatively given in Lisbon. The new Strategic Concept in effect maps the future of the Alliance. But the task in Lisbon was relatively easy. It involved long term objectives around which a consensus among the Allies was created. The task awaiting the Alliance leaders in Chicago will be different and possibly more challenging. They will have to devise the means for implementing the Lisbon vision. In other words, Chicago will have to be about how the Alliance will be what it decided to be in Lisbon.

It is from this perspective that key issues such as smart defense and engagement with strategic partners acquire significant relevance. Smart defense, as championed by the Secretary General Rasmussen, is set to represent one of the most visible yardsticks for Chicago’s success. Smart defense is presented by the NATO leadership as the way forward for NATO. It is seen as the answer to many old and new problems that have and continue to bedevil the Alliance. The burden sharing between US and Europe can possibly be redressed by smart defense. The impact of the austerity measures can arguably be managed by smart defense. The generation of new and complementary capabilities can also be addressed by smart defense. It is no coincidence therefore that the concept of smart defense has figured prominently in the public speeches of the NATO leadership.

As a complement to smart defense, there will also be a need for NATO to review its approach to engaging its regional and global partners. The consensus view in advance of the Chicago Summit seems to be that the priority should be given to fostering links with like-minded democracies as illustrated by the NATO global outreach to Australia and Japan. Yet the perspective of NATO members that are more exposed to regional threats and instabilities is likely to be different. For countries such as Turkey the strategic management of their regional interests in a region dominated by non-democratic states will remain a core concern. As a result, the coalition building effort for the management of potential and even real conflicts will need to involve non-democratic states or regional groupings. The Alliance should therefore tackle also this inherent tension between the benefits and the indispensability of engaging such partners.


The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network or any of its members. The ELN’s aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address the pressing foreign, defence, and security challenges of our time.


Click here for previous ELN Chicago Forum Papers.