Can the leaders of history’s most successful military alliance meet without anyone really noticing? You wouldn’t have thought so given the record of past NATO summit meetings. In 1991, the NATO leaders met in Rome to adopt a new Strategic Concept to guide their Alliance in the post-Cold War world. In 1997, they came to Madridand invited three former Warsaw Pact countries to join an organization originally created to defend its members against a Soviet-led attack from these very countries. Two years later, NATO’s leaders met in Washington to celebrate the Alliance’s 50th anniversary and to underscore its continued relevance at a time when it was engaged in its biggest military operation ever in Kosovo.
This week, NATO leaders are meeting once more. Most of them, though, seem to be determined to get in and out of Riga, Latvia, without leaving much a trace, let alone a legacy. Many of the key leaders attending have lost the confidence of their own publics, making it harder to pursue an ambitious agenda. A Labour Party resuscitated by Tony Blair nearly a decade ago has turned on the prime minister, forcing him to step down next summer. Jacques Chirac is a lame duck, and much of France has turned its attention to the battle between its next generation of sparkling, ambitious leaders who are battling to succeed him. And George W. Bush has been dealt the biggest political shellacking of his career by an American electorate clearly fed up with his administration’s incompetence in Iraq, New Orleans, and elsewhere. Angela Merkel must be wondering if there is anyone to work with.