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News.Az interviews Emiliano Stornelli, a research fellow at the Magna Carta Foundation, on the main aspects of the last NATO’s Summit in Lisbon.

In your opinion, what is the meaning of the NATO’s Summit in Lisbon?
In Lisbon, the traditional bedrocks of the Atlantic Alliance have not been simply reconfirmed but strengthened, as both the new Strategic Concept and the Declaration of the Heads of State and Government clearly demonstrate. Collective defense (art. 5 of the 1949 founding Treaty) based upon solidarity and mutual assurance are going to be shore up with the forthcoming development of a missile defense system to protect all NATO’s European populations, territories and forces from the growing threat of a ballistic missile attack (most probably launched from south-west Asia). The necessity to further enhance NATO’s role as a unique and essential forum for consultation among the Allies (art. 4) has been also pointed out, along with the significance of the Transatlantic link and the indivisibility of security between the two sides of the Atlantic as the political essence of the Alliance. In this domain, NATO’s reasserted commitment to freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law has to be included.

This is not mere rhetoric, but is the evidence that the Alliance has never lost its raison d’être and has no need to reinvent itself to justify its existence, given that its core tasks, principles and purposes are as valid today in the post 9/11 world as during the Cold War or the Nineties. Naturally, NATO has to adjust its policies, structure and capabilities to effectively cope with the new threats and challenges of the ever-changing security environment. This is the very notion of “transformation” and this is exactly what NATO has been doing since the demise of the USSR up until the Lisbon Summit, running through the consequences of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. Therefore, in continuity with the history of the Alliance, the new Strategic Concept and the Declaration adopted in Lisbon constitute the outcome of the overall transformation process being carried out so far, while showing the way ahead for NATO in all the relevant fields of engagement: crisis management, Afghanistan and the Balkans, enlargement and global partnerships, internal reform and military capabilities development, arms control and nuclear policy, cyber warfare and energy security, relations with the EU, the UN and Russia, to name the main issues.
One of main theme of the Summit has been the relaunch of NATO-Russia relations. Do you think that the period of confrontation between NATO and Russia definitely belongs to the past?
The warm welcome that President Medvedev received in Lisbon, as well as the relevant provisions and statements of the new Strategic Concept and the Heads of State and Government’s Summit Declaration, testify NATO’s availability and genuine will to file away the tensions of the last years and set forth a real strategic partnership with Russia. The buildup of the NATO’s missile defense system might be a good starting point to renew dialogue and cooperation within the NATO-Russia Council. At the same time, alongside the expectations, the Alliance has not left out of account the reality of relations with Moscow. The repeated call for “reciprocity” challenges the Russian leadership to act in a real spirit of mutual confidence, transparency and predictability. The existence of pending issues and differences is also acknowledged, whereas particularly meaningful, and all but accidental, is the emphasis that the Heads of State and Government have put to the respect of democratic principles and of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states in the Euro-Atlantic area, as the premises of NATO-Russia relationship (according to the 1997 Founding Act and the 2002 Rome Declaration). This means that the Alliance is aware of the complications that in a way make relations with Russia special, as they can easily switch from cooperation to confrontation, depending on the circumstances.

In this context, what are the implications for NATO’s “open door” policy?

To seek cooperation with Russia does not entail neither a NATO’s departure from the responsibilities established in the 1949 founding Treaty, nor any compromise on NATO’s security interests. For this reason, at the Lisbon Summit no variations have emerged on the “open door” policy (art. 10). The Strategic Concept highlights the significant contribution of the enlargement to the security of the Alliance and renew NATO’s pledge for a Europe whole, free and sharing democratic values. Therefore, the Alliance will keep the door open to the accession of the remaining European countries which aspire to join NATO and are ready to offer their added value to the Euro-Atlantic security, while fulfilling the basic requirements in terms of democracy, free-market and internal stability. Theoretically, NATO’s door is also open to Russia, should it decide to undertake the path of the Euro-Atlantic integration.

Does Georgia and Ukraine still have any chance to become members of NATO in the future?
Yes, they certainly have chances. As for Georgia, in the Lisbon Summit Declaration the Heads of State and Government have explicitly reconfirmed the decision taken by consensus at the 2008 Bucharest Summit of granting NATO’s membership to Tbilisi once it had accomplished the Euro-Atlantic integration process. Subsequently, this process has been slowed down due to the fallout of the crisis ended up with the recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia by Moscow. Nonetheless, since then the Georgian Government has never ceased to implement the necessary reforms and if it keeps following this track the country will be ready to enter the Alliance soon. As for Ukraine, in Bucharest the Heads of State and Government had also met the Ukrainian aspiration to become a member of NATO, along with Georgia. Today, Kyiv has changed its policy, by opting for a “non-bloc” status. This choice was taken freely and legitimately by new Government and as such it cannot but be respected. In any case, the latest internal developments in Ukraine have not questioned the partnership with NATO. The Government has confirmed its commitment to continue advancing the related programs for reform and cooperation, while showing a great interest in finding new areas of interaction. From this point of view, Ukraine might become very similar to Sweden and Finland, where the choice of neutrality has not hampered the achievement of a deep Euro-Atlantic integration in the security and defense field. Their eventual accession to NATO remains a subject of public discussion, especially in Finland, but even so they already fully belong to the Euro-Atlantic community and are members of the EU. Ukraine can be likened to both Sweden and Finland. NATO’s membership is also a political matter and should Kyiv decide to join the Alliance in the future NATO’s door will remain open, as pointed out in the Lisbon Summit Declaration.

Can NATO ever give membership status to a country with unsolved conflicts on its territory?
In my opinion, there is not a general rule for the Alliance to follow on this issue. Each of the so-called frozen conflicts in the broader Euro-Atlantic space presents its own peculiar features. Transnistria, Nagorno-Karabakh and South Ossetia/Abkhazia differ one another and a case-by-case approach seems to be the most appropriate. Frozen conflicts apart, partner countries in the region like Armenia, Azerbaijan and Moldova should also improve their record in the security and defense sector reform and move forward their overall democratic development, whether they wish to advance in the process of Euro-Atlantic integration.

Regarding Afghanistan, what do you expect from the transition strategy? Is the 2014 deadline realistic?

The key word of the transition strategy is “training”. Indeed, an increased effort to enable the Afghan army and police to assume full responsibilities for security across the whole country is the first condition to meet the 2014 deadline. Yet, the success of this strategy is not only bound up with the training of the local forces. Other several military and non military factors are implicated, which altogether concur to determine the level of stability (or instability) of Afghanistan and require the Alliance to adopt a comprehensive approach to cope with all the multifaceted challenges of the Afghan crisis, like the new Strategic Concept clearly explains. In light of that, to complete the handover of the security responsibilities from ISAF to the local forces by the end of 2014, the Alliance has also to take stock of the outcome of the reconciliation and reintegration process, of the need for increasing good governance, of the pace of reconstruction and economic development, as well as of the involvement of external actors in the Afghan internal affairs. On this latter aspect, NATO has intensified its efforts to engage the neighboring states in the stabilization of Afghanistan. Positive outcomes in combating terrorism and extremism in Pakistan will be of the utmost importance to defeat the Afghan insurgency and bring stability all over the country. In this domain, the Iranian role should also be considered and addressed. On the whole, the transition strategy is challenged by numerous uncertainties and its accomplishment is all but granted. The Heads of State and Government of the Alliance are aware of that and for this reason in the Lisbon Summit Declaration have clarified that the strategy is conditions-based and not calendar-driven. Therefore, the 2014 deadline could be postponed according to the overall conditions in the field. This means that NATO is not rushing to withdraw from Afghanistan at all. As reasserted by the Heads of State and Government themselves, the Alliance will not give up its long-term commitment to consolidate the independence and democratic statehood of Afghanistan and to prevent the country from becoming a safe haven for terrorists and dangerous rulers again.

(1st December 2010)