A Successful NATO Summit

Georgia’s and Ukraine’s plans to join NATO hit a roadblock on Thursday. But that doesn’t make the Bucharest summit a failure for the United States—far from it.

For those who judge foreign policy by the criteria that President Ronald Reagan conveyed to his then-chief of staff James Baker ("I'd rather get 80 percent of what I want than to go over the cliff with my flag flying"), the NATO summit in Bucharest was a success for President George W. Bush.

The alliance formally endorsed the missile defense system that is to be deployed in Poland and the Czech Republic (although it also again invited Russia to cooperate in this endeavor)-ending any possibility that missile defense might become an occasion for divisions among European states that could undermine transatlantic solidarity.

Recognizing the importance of success in Afghanistan for NATO's future credibility, French President Nicolas Sarkozy pledged to send additional forces to eastern Afghanistan, helping to relieve the pressure on embattled Canadian troops and reducing the possibility-which raised its ugly head at the NATO ministerial meeting in Vilnius earlier this year-that individual NATO members might begin to withdraw forces from the mission.

But to read some of the doom and gloom headlines, the decision not to extend membership action plans to Georgia and Ukraine at this particular summit is being treated as a disaster which somehow makes the Bucharest meeting a failure.

That Presidents Yushchenko of Ukraine and Saakashvili of Georgia are not happy with the outcome is perfectly understandable. Their disappointment and anger, however, should not be taken as the yardstick for assessing the overall positive nature of the meeting. Nor should Washington, Berlin, London, Paris or any other NATO capital be required to adopt as their assessment the reaction in Kyiv or Tbilisi.

And Georgia and Ukraine did receive a major "silver lining" at Bucharest in the communiqué. In the past, a number of continental European leaders have argued that NATO's mission should be focused on Europe and that future NATO members should have, in Sarkozy's words, a "European vocation." By keeping the door open to both, it torpedoes any plans for assigning a definitive eastern frontier to NATO (and by extension, the European Union) that would terminate at the western shores of the Black Sea. And for all the talk about supposed Russian "blackmail" of the Europeans, Moscow is still quite displeased with any statement on NATO that still declines to recognize the Eurasian/post-Soviet space as falling into Moscow's sphere of influence.

The president, however, can and should be faulted for his last-minute grandstanding on the MAP issue, when, after his telephone conversation with Chancellor Merkel (after his White House meeting with Saakasvhili), he was well aware of both the German concerns about extending the MAP at this time as well as the compromise solution that was being proffered. Perhaps Bush wanted to protect himself from contentious domestic U.S. criticism about kowtowing to Moscow and was content to shift the onus to those perfidious "Old Europeans" like France and Germany, the villains in 2003 over Iraq. But Sarkozy and Merkel are not Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder-and casting them in that role is counterproductive. Moreover, it doesn't bode well for all the various Republican and Democratic proponents of a "new multilateralism" that stresses taking the concerns of allies seriously to suggest that France and Germany had no legitimate grounds for their concerns about not moving ahead with expansion at this particular time.

It's also a bit disingenuous because Bush will be able to meet President Putin in Sochi without then having to deal with the issue of NATO expansion on the agenda, which assists him in his efforts to secure his legacy in terms of Russian-American relations. He also travels to Russia with a united NATO behind him on missile defense-including the endorsement of countries like Germany and Slovakia, which had been quite skeptical about the system.

So, all in all, a good summit meeting-and an important step in revitalizing transatlantic ties.

 

Nikolas K. Gvosdev is editor of The National Interest.