NATO Lisbon Summit



NATO’s November 19th-20th summit in Lisbon, Portugal is widely expected to transform the way the Atlantic alliance operates, and will be important in shaping the future of the transatlantic security relationship between the United States and Europe. Particular areas of focus for Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen will be unveiling a new strategic concept, bringing the ISAF mission in Afghanistan to a successful conclusion, creating a joint NATO-Russia missile defense shield to counter Iran, and practical cooperation with Russia.

The Strategic Concept

Rasmussen believes his main focus as Secretary General is to “[make] sure NATO is properly structured, properly equipped, completely interoperable and fully effective.” The new strategic concept will necessarily reflect this philosophy as member nations prepare to make deep defense cuts that will greatly diminish the size of their active military services. In an April lecture at the Belgian High Institute for Defense, Rasmussen called for “a wider use of common funding and collective solutions…to conduct military operations in a cost effective manner, and to strengthen our cohesion and solidarity as Allies.” Effective strategies for pooling resources among NATO states will undoubtedly be at the core of the new strategic concept, as well as comprehensive reviews of “requirements and expenditures” to “ensure that they remain aligned.” However, the document will likely try to pursued members states from cutting military services too deeply, as Rasmussen has argued that NATO nation will “have to avoid cutting so deep that we won’t, in future, be able to defend the security on which our economic prosperity rests.”

The Strategic Concept will also recommit itself to territorial defense of its member states, while providing grounds for overseas intervention, such as in Afghanistan and the former Yugoslavia.  New threats, including cyber-attacks and ballistic missiles, will also be addressed, as well as deepening extra-alliance ties with the European Union, Russia and Japan.  Tactical nuclear weapons will also likely play a part in the new Concept—Germany has called for the removal of all “mini-nukes” on its soil, and it is likely that NATO will, on principal, endorse President Obama’s long-term goal of eliminating nuclear weapons.  However, NATO will certainly retain nuclear capability as long as other nations possess them.  Consensus based decision-making, NATO’s current means of voting, likely will remain unaffected by the release of the new concept. Consensus based decision-making, NATO’s current means of voting, likely will remain unaffected by the release of the new concept.  Funding the Alliance, also a major concern for many member-states facing budget shortfalls, was addressed at a conference earlier in Prague earlier this month, however, findings from that conference have not been publicly released.


Mr. Rasmussen has often focused on NATO’s need to “develop deeper, wider political and practical partnerships with countries around the globe” to build lasting cooperative security and improve Europe’s infrastructure for combating common external threats. Developing wider partnerships will mean greater cooperation with Russia, which will be represented at the Lisbon summit by President Dmitry Medvedev.  President Medvedev will attend some of the key discussions at the conference regarding the creation of a missile shield and lasting cooperation with the alliance. While visiting Russia earlier this month, Rasmussen sent emphasized bilateral cooperation: “I think Lisbon will send a clear message to the Russian people. NATO does not see Russia as an enemy. We see Russia as a partner of strategic importance. We want to do more with you to make our world safer, on the basis of trust, confidence and reciprocity.” In a NATO-Russia Council meeting at Lisbon, Rasmussen hopes to win Russian support for a joint missile defense shield to counterbalance the emerging nuclear threat from Iran, as well as an increased troop commitment to the Afghan war, whose heroin trade continues to cause domestic problems for the Kremlin. In addition, NATO will solidify its China policy at the summit.


As NATO member states wind down their mission in Afghanistan, Rasmussen must reemphasize the strategic importance of the mission, and offer a tangible exit strategy that will ensure long term stability for the troubled nation. NATO civilian officials have agreed Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s assessment that 2014 will be a realistic target for near-complete ISAF withdrawal, despite desires of some allies to leave much sooner. Rasmussen also hopes that the summit will be a successful platform from which to negotiate greater cooperation with Russia on stabilizing Afghanistan, and may also look to form a coalition with other nations whose national interests are tied to the country, including China, which is looking to deepen its relationship with the Atlantic alliance.

The Future of the Transatlantic Relationship

Tensions have recently flared between the United States, the primary military power in NATO, and the European Union over substantial defense cuts, especially during Britain’s Defense Spending Review over the past month. Though the cuts were not as deep as initially feared, during the conference Rasmussen will seek to repair transatlantic rifts, as well as forge a new path for the alliance in the wake of the Afghan War, including significant drives to achieve non-proliferation in Europe. NATO will also push measures to increase interoperability among member-states and eliminate spending and capabilities duplication.  Also, by attempting to harmonize national defense markets with the help of the EDA, NATO will also have an easier time modernizing military capabilities, which imperative in the wake of recent spending cuts. The Lisbon Summit should begin a productive dialogue between the United States and its European allies about pooling funds and military integration as defense cuts begin to take hold.