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North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in Bucharest

If anyone can take satisfaction from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in Bucharest that wrapped up yesterday, it is Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Armed with a no-nonsense mandate from Parliament, Harper demanded and got the help Canada needs to keep 2,500 troops in Afghanistan for the next four years.

Canada's nudge was good for NATO, too. It helped motivate French President Nicolas Sarkozy to commit 700 troops to eastern Afghanistan, which will allow the Americans to shift 1,000 to Kandahar, where we are struggling to contain a Taliban insurgency.

Harper chose to read this as a sign not only that "Canada's voice has been taken very seriously," which is true, but also as evidence of "a rallying of NATO resolve in Afghanistan." That might be a stretch.

The Bucharest summit pretty much cold-shouldered U.S. President George Bush's appeal that NATO direct far more of its 47,000 soldiers to engage the Taliban. While welcome, the French troops (plus a few hundred more pledged by other countries) fall short of the thousands that are needed. More German, Italian and Spanish willingness to fight is required. Little was on display. That left Bush promising to send "significant" numbers of extra U.S. troops to fill the Eurogap.

So much for NATO's largely empty rhetoric about reaffirming "our solidarity and cohesion," treating Afghanistan as "our top priority," generating "new force contributions," and showing "resolve."

In truth, the strongest military alliance in the world has a credibility gap that could swallow a Leopard tank. The "top priority" for many of its 26 members is to keep their troops out of harm's way. After Bucharest, as before, the Americans, British, Canadians, Dutch and now the French – in effect, an "Atlantic caucus" – will shoulder a disproportionate burden. While France is actively stepping up its engagement with the alliance, other, well-resourced NATO partners seem prepared to cede turf to the insurgents.

The same lack of resolve plagued NATO's ragged expansion. Croatia and Albania rightly obtained membership, while Bosnia and Montenegro drew closer. But NATO delayed offering Ukraine and Georgia membership to avoid irritating Russia, which feels threatened by NATO expansion and missile defences. However, NATO did offer both countries the consolation that they "will become members" at some future date, as Canada urged. Finally, Greece blackballed Macedonia in a sterile dispute over the latter's name. Overall, this was a mixed outcome, albeit one that preserved a veneer of NATO solidarity and finessed Russian concerns.

As NATO approaches its 60th anniversary, Bucharest was an occasion to showcase the alliance as purposeful, tough and cohesive. Some members, Canada included, delivered. Others fell a short.

John Stone    4/5/2008


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