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CRS: NATO's Chicago Summit

Author: Paul Belkin
May 14, 2012


This Congressional Research Service report explains the issues to be covered at the upcoming NATO Summit in Chicago, where talks about Afghanistan, "smart defense," and partnerships with non-NATO members are supposed to dominate.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has been the cornerstone for transatlantic security and defense cooperation since its founding in 1949. As NATO continues to evolve to confront emerging regional and global security challenges, the 112th Congress could play an important role in determining the future direction of the alliance and U.S. policy toward it. This includes addressing key issues that are expected to be discussed at NATO's upcoming summit in Chicago. Issues of importance to Congress could include ongoing NATO operations in Afghanistan, off the Horn of Africa, and in the Balkans; the development of allied military capabilities and a NATO territorial missile defense system; NATO's nuclear force posture; NATO's relations with non-NATO members; and implementation of NATO's 2010 Strategic Concept.

Since the last NATO summit in Lisbon, Portugal, in November 2010, the alliance has recorded some important achievements and faced considerable challenges in pursuit of its agreed strategic goals. In Lisbon, the allies adopted a new Strategic Concept in an effort to clarify NATO's role in the 21st century security environment. The new NATO blueprint outlined three core tasks: collective defense; crisis management; and cooperative security.

On the issue of collective defense, the allies have committed to maintaining an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional forces to defend alliance territory and to developing a ballistic missile defense capability based largely on the U.S. European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA, discussed in more detail below). Some issues remain divisive, however. For example, some allies continue to question the utility of U.S. non-strategic nuclear weapons deployed in Europe, while others have argued that a continued focus on large-scale "out-of-area" operations and unconventional security threats could compromise the alliance's ability to defend the territory of NATO member states.

With respect to crisis management, ongoing operations in Afghanistan and the Balkans as well as the alliance's 2011 operation in Libya demonstrated NATO's capacity to respond simultaneously to multiple security crises. At the same time, each of the missions also exposed significant shortfalls in allied military capabilities. Calls from some allies for an accelerated transition away from combat operations in Afghanistan and the fact that no more than 14 of 28 allies participated in the Libya operation have also prompted many observers to question alliance solidarity and to express doubts about the appetite for future "out-of-area" operations, particularly on the scale of the Afghan mission.

On the issue of cooperative security, NATO has sought to enhance its relations with non-NATO member states and other multilateral institutions to allow for stronger regional political and military cooperation and increased partner participation in alliance operations. However, NATO's relations with some key partners, including Russia, continue to be marked by disagreement and deadlock.

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