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4 Apr, 2009 22:10

NATO summit seeks to build bridges

At their 60th anniversary summit NATO members have appointed a new Secretary General, agreed continued support for the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan and announced the resumption of the Russia-NATO Council’s work.

The celebrations by the leaders of the 28 member nations in Strasbourg have been marred by protests.

Trouble broke out as scores of anti-NATO campaigners tried to make their way to the summit venue. Several buildings were set alight with police using tear gas to beat back the protesters.

Hundreds of protesters have been arrested following two days of clashes in Strasbourg and two police officers are reported to have been injured.

Away from the battleground, delegates have been enjoying a moment of peace. In a show of unity, NATO leaders walked across the Europa Bridge, spanning the river Rhine separating Germany and France.

They met French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the halfway point, symbolizing France's formal return to the alliance. For the first time ever a NATO summit was being held jointly by two states – in Kehl, Germany, and Strasbourg, France.

The summit saw France return into NATO’s military command structure 40 years after it opted out.

It also welcomed newcomers Albania and Croatia and U.S. President Barack Obama marked the door is open for others too.

“Membership is open for countries that meet NATO standards and can make a meaningful contribution to allied security,” Obama said.

But despite the show of solidarity at the heart of Europe, NATO’s 60th anniversary was not all about celebrating.

And German Chancellor Angela Merkel made it clear saying: “We need to understand that Afghanistan is a litmus test for us all.”

Afghanistan – NATO’s top challenge

Nearly half the soldiers now taking part in the mission are American. And U.S. President Barack Obama came to Europe to call on the alliance’s members to increase their role in Afghanistan – either with troops, money, aid, or even with diplomatic efforts.

He praised the summit’s hosts for their efforts in Afghanistan, but said these efforts need to be bolstered and made more effective.

But Europe is reluctant to match the American military surge, pledging money and training for the Afghan police and army instead.

Yet, the U.S. President called it a success.

“Our allies and partners have already agreed to provide approximately 5,000 troops and trainers to advance our new strategy as well as increased civilian assistance. To accelerate and enhance our training of Afghan security forces, a new NATO training mission will focus on high-level support of Afghan army and training and mentoring for the Afghan police, and many of our partners and allies have also pledged support for a new trust fund to sustain Afghan national army,” Barack Obama said.

New head appointed – after Turkey gave in

Until the last moment it was not clear who will replace Jaap de Hoop Scheffer as the alliance’s Secretary General.

But after a series of Turkish concerns were addressed, NATO's 28 member nations reached unanimity and confirmed the appointment of Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen as the new head.

He angered many Muslims around the world by backing the right of a Danish newspaper to publish caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in 2005.

As for Russia, it is “ready to work with any Secretary General of the Alliance”, Russia’s envoy to NATO Dmitry Rogozin told RT.

Anders Rasmussen will take over as NATO Secretary General in August.

Russia-NATO Council resumes work

Ties with Moscow are another key issue for the alliance. The relationship sank after last August’s conflict in the Caucasus.

Ahead of the summit Barack Obama said the relationship with Russia should be developed in many areas, but he did criticize Russia’s military response to Georgia’s attack on South Ossetia in August 2008.

“I think that we have to send a clear message to Russia that we want to work with them, but we can't go back to the old way of doing business,” he said.

But the alliance agrees – Russia may not be a friend yet but it has to be a partner.

“We must co-operate with Russia… to air our differences,” NATO’s Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said.

It has been decided the Russia-NATO Council will resume and the first session will be held this summer.

Meanwhile, Russia remains opposed to Washington’s plans of anti-missile defense shield in Eastern Europe, backed by all NATO members, and to NATO’s expansion to the East.

NATO as alliance is a defeat

RT’s military analyst Eugene Khrushchev believes from now on the Afghan War will increasingly become a U.S. effort.

“And that’s exactly the reason the U.S. has to come up for the Afghan search with the same amount of extra troops that will compensate the European troop’s presence in Afghanistan, because they are totally incapable of coming up on combat terms with the US forces,” he said.

Peter Lavelle, RT’s political commentator, agreed, saying Obama was expecting more from NATO and nobody wanted to raise their hands and offer more troops.

“The British will do a little bit more when it comes to training. The French said they would train police officers there. But this is a clear defeat for NATO as an alliance. An alliance that doesn’t want to fight. It embraces the ideas of the United States, but it won’t back it up,” said the expert.

According to Lavelle, European members of the alliance are not committed to fighting this war.

“It’s like saying: ‘We are all for you, America, we are right behind you.’ And that’s right – right behind,” he said, adding “NATO was the pace against the Soviet Union, and the Soviet Union is gone.”

Russia does not need NATO, NATO needs Russia

Speaking of the alliance’s future and how Russia plays into it, Peter Lavelle has stressed that it is NATO that needs Russia.

“Russia does not need NATO at all! NATO desperately needs Russia,” Lavelle said, such as for supplying the operation in Afghanistan. Of course, numerous squabbles within the alliance itself prevent its members from being able to embrace Russia.

Eugene Khrushchev concurred, saying that there is no way NATO will remain in its current form in the next ten years: “It will melt down into a political club of weekend warriors at best. Either NATO will re-brand the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, or it will have to re-brand itself and melt down into some quasi-European entity.”