Putting NATO’s Riga Summit into Context
№2 2007 April/June

At the end of
last November, the Heads of State and Government of NATO’s 26
member countries met in the Latvian capital of Riga for their most
recent summit meeting. Over the past ten years or so, NATO summits
became increasingly busy two-day events, featuring meetings between
the Allies as well as with their Partner countries. The Riga Summit
was different, however. Unlike previous summits, NATO’s Partner
countries were not present. There was no meeting of the
Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, which brings together the NATO
members and their 20 partners from Europe to Central Asia. Neither
was there a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission, nor of the
NATO-Russia Council. The 26 NATO members decided to stay on their
own, and their meeting took less than 24 hours.

Why was the Riga
Summit, as a British defense journal put it, organized in such an
“introverted” way? And why did a NATO meeting which took place so
close to the borders of Russia not at least seek some high-level
Russian participation? The answer becomes clear if one places the
Riga Summit in its proper context, which is NATO’s broader
evolution from an Alliance initially founded to provide for the
territorial defense of Western Europe into an instrument for
safeguarding transatlantic security interests wherever they may be
at stake.


categorizations often invite the charge of oversimplifying a
complex story. Still, it is instructive to look at NATO’s 58-year
history as an evolution that has proceeded in three distinct
phases:  the Cold War, the decade following the end of the
Cold War, and the period that began with the terrorist attacks on
Washington and New York on 11 September 2001.  Each of these
periods posed very distinct security challenges.  Each
required a different set of responses.  And accordingly, each
of these three phases produced a different NATO.

The first
, the Cold War, stretched well over four decades.
During these 40 years, NATO’s role was essentially static:
preventing an attack against the territory of its member countries.
Given the specific conditions of the East-West conflict, NATO could
accomplish this objective by deterrence alone, which is to say by
the mere threat of using force in response to an aggression.
As both sides knew what was at stake and thus exerted considerable
caution in dealing with one another, the use of force to advance
political aims was effectively excluded in Cold War

second phase of NATO, the period between the
collapse of the Berlin Wall and that of the Twin Towers in New
York, saw NATO acting in a role that was fundamentally different
from that of the Cold War. While some observers, not least in
Russia, expected NATO’s demise, the realities of post-Cold War
Europe gave NATO a new – if very different – lease of life. As a
transatlantic framework for managing change, NATO became a major
factor in Europe’s post-Cold War transformation. Politically, this
new role of NATO manifested itself in the policy of building
partnerships with virtually all countries in Europe as well as the
Southern Mediterranean region. Militarily, NATO’s new role was
demonstrated most clearly in the Western Balkans. In trying to stop
the violence and bloodshed after the collapse of Yugoslavia, NATO
became increasingly involved in crisis management efforts outside
its own treaty area.

Both dimensions
of NATO’s post-Cold War evolution reflected a changing notion of
security. As the threat of invasion disappeared, the exclusive
focus on territorial defense had clearly run its course. However,
instability in NATO’s wider European neighborhood could well affect
NATO members’ security. This instability could not be remedied by a
policy based solely on the display of military strength. Security
policy was to become a policy of broader political engagement and,
in the case of the Western Balkans, of long-term military
engagement as well.

Just like the
Cold War, the second phase of NATO’s evolution concluded with a
certain sense of optimism. At the end of the 1990s, Europe seemed
to have managed a “soft landing” from the Cold War. Advances in
Europe’s integration, in Russia’s democratization, and the
emergence of a general cooperative momentum throughout the
continent had clearly put any remnants of the Cold War to rest.
While NATO’s enlargement process, and particularly NATO’s Kosovo
air campaign, had met with considerable Russian disapproval, NATO
could claim to have played a constructive, indeed essential role as
a framework for managing Europe’s post-Cold War transformation, and
for pacifying the Western Balkans.


The terrorist
attacks on 11 September 2001 marked the beginning of the third
phase of NATO’s evolution. It now became clear that the major
threats to NATO Allies – and, for that matter, to many more
countries – no longer emanated from Europe, as was the case during
the Cold War and its immediate aftermath, but from regions outside
the “old continent.” In the face of international terrorism,
failing states and the spread of weapons of mass destruction,
NATO’s traditional self-image as a “eurocentric” Alliance, which
had prevailed in the previous two phases, now became obsolete. The
further consolidation of Europe as a unified democratic space would
continue to rank high on NATO’s agenda. Yet the global nature of
the new threats rendered a purely geographical approach
meaningless. If NATO was to continue to provide for the security of
its member states in a world of “globalized insecurity,” it had to
adopt a functional approach and be prepared to tackle problems at
their source.

The first
indication of this new approach was NATO’s first ever invocation of
its collective self-defense obligation in response to the attacks
of 11 September 2001. In the Cold War, this obligation had been
widely understood to apply in the case of a military attack by the
Warsaw Pact. However, by extending this obligation to a major
terrorist attack by non-state actors, and indeed with tacit Russian
support, NATO became part of a struggle that was global in essence.
In August 2003, NATO assumed the command of the International
Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, demonstrating that
it was now fully prepared to take a functional approach to

third phase of NATO’s evolution is clearly the
most demanding. Taking the logic of engagement seriously means that
the Alliance now has to cope with an ever broader spectrum of
missions, ranging from combat operations to humanitarian relief.
Today, the Alliance is keeping the peace in Kosovo; assisting
defense reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina; patrolling the
Mediterranean Sea in a naval antiterrorist mission; engaged in
combat as well as in peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan; and
airlifting African Union troops to the Sudanese crisis region of
Darfur. In addition, NATO has provided humanitarian relief to the
United States after hurricane Katrina and to Pakistan after the
October 2005 earthquake. And NATO is training Iraqi security
forces, both inside and outside the country. Not surprisingly,
given their importance to security and stability more widely, many
of these missions and operations enjoy the support of the Russian
Federation – either through the UN Security Council or through the
actual contribution of military forces or logistical

sustaining this broad agenda poses a range of political, military
and financial challenges. Not only are most of NATO’s missions
today long-term in nature; their ultimate success depends on
political and economic development rather than military
preponderance. Hence, more than ever before NATO needs to calibrate
its military contribution with the work of civilian actors. The
long-term nature of NATO’s engagements also raises questions of how
to finance these operations in a way that all Allies perceive as
fair and equitable. As shown by the fierce fighting in the South of
Afghanistan over the past year, some of NATO’s assignments have
become extremely demanding militarily. Moreover, NATO’s nations now
face the specter of suffering casualties in missions very far away
from home, which is a major challenge for democratic


Against this
backdrop of mounting operational demands, the challenge for the
Riga Summit was to ensure that NATO has the military, political and
financial means to continue to perform as required. With respect to
NATO’s ongoing military transformation, Riga did indeed produce a
number of significant results. The NATO Response Force is now fully
operational, giving NATO a more than 20,000-strong rapid reaction
capability to address new risks and threats. In addition, NATO
Allies worked out arrangements for making use of American, Russian
and Ukrainian large transport aircraft for NATO missions. The NATO
members also agreed on new initiatives in areas such as tactical
missile defense, air-to-ground surveillance, and cooperation
between special operations forces. And major reforms of NATO’s
defense planning, force generation and funding arrangements will
ensure that NATO’s missions are better prepared and paid for in the

The Riga Summit
was a major step forward as well with respect to NATO’s political
transformation. For example, Allies agreed to deepen their
cooperation with partner countries, including those in the Middle
East and the Gulf region. Work was set in train to build new
relationships with countries in the Asia-Pacific region that share
the Alliance’s security interests and, in the case of Australia and
New Zealand, already make valuable contributions to NATO-led
operations. And in line with the need for a more comprehensive
approach to security, it was emphasized that NATO will continue to
seek closer cooperation with other international actors, such as
the United Nations, the European Union, the G-8, or the World Bank,
as well as with non-governmental organizations.

All these
decisions will help advance NATO’s transformation into an
organization that is even better able to respond to today’s global
challenges. But while the Riga Summit was clearly geared toward the
third phase of NATO’s evolution, the meeting also took a number of
decisions to promote the Alliance’s longstanding objective of
helping to create a Europe whole, free and at peace. One such
decision was to invite Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and
Serbia to join the Partnership for Peace program. And NATO’s Heads
of State and Government also clearly stated their intention, at
their next summit in the spring of 2008, to extend further
invitations to those countries that are able to contribute to
Euro-Atlantic security and stability. This is a strong signal of
encouragement to Albania, Croatia, and the former Yugoslav Republic
of Macedonia, who all aspire to become members of NATO. NATO’s
relations with Georgia and Ukraine will continue to develop within
the framework of the so-called Individual Dialogs that the Alliance
is conducting with these countries.

The operational
focus of the Riga Summit should explain why that gathering was an
Allies-only meeting. From the outset, however, Riga was not planned
to be an isolated event. Even before NATO’s Heads of State and
Government met in the Latvian capital, the next summit had already
been set for the spring of 2008. Moreover, NATO’s 60th anniversary
in April 2009 will probably be yet another opportunity for a
meeting of Heads of State and Government. This rapid sequence of
high-level meetings indicates the accelerating speed of NATO’s
transformation – a transformation that requires regular high-level
political guidance and direction. 

With Riga behind
it and one or even two summits waiting ahead in the not too distant
future, NATO is now busier than ever.  In addition to
fulfilling its ongoing, demanding operational engagements, the
Alliance will continue to pursue longer-term, structural changes,
both in terms of its own internal political and military
organization, and in its relations with other nations and


One major feature
of the current third phase of NATO’s evolution is the
organization’s closer interaction with other major institutions.
The deployment of NATO forces into a crisis area may be
indispensable for ending a conflict and providing a secure
environment for political and economic reconstruction. However,
that reconstruction – “nation-building” in the broadest sense – can
only be achieved through cooperation with other actors, including
the European Union, the United Nations and non-governmental
organizations. This imperative of combining “hard” and “soft” power
has raised the challenge of building new institutional ties between
NATO and those other actors that are most likely to provide the
“soft” part of the security bargain in future

This means, first
and foremost, that NATO needs to build a true strategic partnership
with the European Union. Although the current NATO-EU relationship
is far too limited in scope, the logic of pragmatic coordination
and cooperation should ultimately prevail over petty notions of
institutional uniqueness. This marriage of “hard” and “soft”
security would dramatically broaden the range of political,
military and economic tools at the disposal of the international
community. A more structured relationship between NATO and the
United Nations is another near-term aim. NATO and the UN operate in
the same areas, yet daily cooperation in the field contrasts with a
glaring lack of political consultation at the strategic

emerging as a major “enabler” of the UN, the value of a more
coherent strategic relationship has become increasingly obvious. In
addition to more immediate operational benefits, it would help NATO
in providing training and mentoring of UN peacekeepers, or advice
on planning and interoperability issues. And that kind of
assistance would greatly help a currently overstretched UN to
perform its role as a custodian of global peace and

Another feature
of NATO’s “third phase” is broader and deeper political dialog.
Unlike the Cold War, where the visibility of the threat made
achieving consensus on a response relatively easy, the range of
today’s security challenges no longer allows for the convenient
assumption that the Allies will always arrive at similar answers.
Building consensus will become harder, and require more regular,
open debate among the Allies.

At a time when
many traditional tenets of national security are being revisited,
the Alliance must grapple with these questions rather than dodge
them for the sake of unity. In an environment where new security
players, such as the EU, are finding their role, and where other
parts of the world, such as the Broader Middle East, are growing in
relevance, the transatlantic community can only make real progress
if contending ideas are put to the test through informed and frank
debate. Moreover, where NATO troops are engaged in an operation,
the Alliance must also be part of the process leading to a
political solution.  And this is one more reason for the
Allies to debate their policy intensively – among themselves, with
their Partner countries, and with other international organizations
and key regional players.


The immediate
post-Riga period should also be a time to deepen the NATO-Russia
partnership. The Russian Federation is a major security actor in
the Euro-Atlantic area, and following the last round of NATO
enlargement in 2004, Russia shares land or sea borders with six
NATO member countries. NATO and Russia have common interests in
areas as diverse as the fight against terrorism and countering the
proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Russia’s permanent
seat on the United Nations Security Council gives her a significant
voice on issues that affect the security of NATO Allies. Russia’s
influence in Central Asia and northern Afghanistan is important to
the success of the NATO-led ISAF mission. It is clear, at the same
time, that the success of that mission would significantly enhance
the overall security situation for Russia and its

Over the past ten
years, Russia has already made welcome contributions to the success
of NATO missions in the Balkans, the Mediterranean and Afghanistan.
In particular, since the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001,
the hesitancy that dominated the NATO-Russia relationship through
much of the 1990s has given way to a less cautious and more
pragmatic approach.  A major step forward was the replacement
of the rather inward-looking and conservative Permanent Joint
Council with the more operational NATO-Russia Council (NRC) in May

Although there
has been significant progress, the potential of the NATO-Russia
relationship is far from exhausted. For example, the pattern of
military-to-military cooperation remains uneven, with some common
projects progressing well while others lack momentum. The 5th
anniversary of the NRC this spring represents a great opportunity
for the Alliance and the Russian Federation to reaffirm their
commitment to the NATO-Russia partnership at the highest political
level, and substantiate this commitment with the launch of new
common projects, supported by sufficient resources. Such projects
could encompass enhancing military interoperability between Russian
and NATO forces, better coordination of efforts to combat terrorism
and organized crime in Afghanistan, or closer cooperation in
responding to natural disasters.

Although neither
Russia nor NATO’s other partners were present at the Riga Summit,
they have every reason to welcome its results. The Riga Summit
marked a significant step in NATO’s evolution toward a security
provider within and beyond the Euro-Atlantic area.  This
ongoing evolution will see NATO working together ever more closely
with other nations and organizations to tackle new, global risks
and threats.  Russia has nothing to fear, and a lot to gain,
from this evolution.  It has both a strong interest and ample
opportunity to play a greater part in the process.  And we
hope that it will.