The NATO Summit went more or less according to plan. NATO members adopted a new Strategic Concept (PDF), which specifies the alliance's main missions for the coming decade. They also identified 2014 as the target date for the full handover of combat missions in Afghanistan to Afghan security forces and agreed to develop a joint missile defense system to cover the territory of alliance members. And the alliance took a step forward to advance relations with Russia, elevating the status of the NATO-Russia Council and securing greater Russian involvement in the mission in Afghanistan. Dialogue will also continue on Russia's potential cooperation with NATO's missile defense system.
Looking ahead, NATO's European members will struggle to maintain adequate force levels in the face of economic austerity. Only time will tell whether NATO and Afghan forces succeed in turning the tide against the Taliban and extremist insurgents in Afghanistan and whether the plan for cooperation with Russia develops into a program that anchors Russia within the Euro-Atlantic community.
In the current period of economic constraint and political polarization, NATO's evolution depends heavily on the trajectory of domestic politics in NATO members. Some members are under pressure to quit the mission in Afghanistan; the Dutch have already left and the Canadians are scheduled to depart next year. Russia's relationship with NATO will in part ride on the prospects for ratification of the New START Treaty in the United States, though at this point it remains uncertain whether the Senate will move ahead--either during the current lame-duck period or after the new Congress is in session.
NATO is seeking to adapt to a new array of threats and challenges. The summit in Lisbon charted a sensible way for doing so, but it remains to be seen whether the political will is available to back up NATO's plans.