NATO Comes to Chicago

NATO's summit this weekend in the Windy City will produce a lot of hot air, but what the aging alliance really needs is a douse in cold water.

The NATO summit set to start Sunday in Chicago will be the first such gathering in the United States since the alliance met in Washington for its 50th anniversary in 1999. Atop the agenda this weekend will be Afghanistan, where America is embroiled in its eleventh year of war. Lip service to austerity, in the form of “smart defense” and “burden sharing,” will also be given at the summit, which is expected to cost the city of Chicago about $55 million (but don’t worry, the federal government will likely be footing a good portion of the bill, as it often does for much of NATO's business). The alliance will look outside the North Atlantic region to build “partnerships” that would facilitate future missions, using the template of NATO’s intervention in Libya last year, which was requested by the Arab League, as NATO’s boosters are wont to repeat.

Topics that won’t be broached include the structural dependency on foreign intervention that NATO is fostering in Afghanistan thanks to its decade-plus involvement in that country’s even longer internal strife. Don't expect to hear anything about the consequences arising from NATO’s Libya intervention either.

NATO was formed in the aftermath of World War II as a mutual defense alliance for Western European and North American countries. Forty short years later, the Cold War ended, and with it so did much of NATO’s raison d’etre. Yet NATO soldiered on, inserting itself into the breakup of Yugoslavia, which culminated in the 1999 NATO bombing of Kosovo. “Remember how controversial that was as an ‘out of area’ operation?” American University’s School of International Service dean James Goldgeier asked reporters at a press preview on Tuesday. Even Human Rights Watch’s report that NATO air strikes in Libya killed 72 civilians last year (at least a third of them under the age of 18) was interpreted as a sign of progress for the alliance. Ambassador James Dobbins, director of the RAND Institute’s Defense Policy Center, characterized HRW’s figure as “remarkably low,” saying NATO leaders would “probably be congratulating themselves on having less collateral damage than any such effort in world history” if the number held up to scrutiny.

While last year’s Libya mission will still be useful for NATO as a model for future “humanitarian interventions” that fall outside the organization's stated mission of “mutual defense,” NATO’s defining mission so far in the 21st century remains the war in Afghanistan. Yet as Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer (ret.), of the Center for Advanced Defense Studies, told me, “We won the war in 2001. With 500 Americans in three months, the war in Afghanistan was won.” Returning to that kind of limited, special operations war, Shaffer says, is what NATO ought to be considering this weekend. But don’t count on it.

Instead, NATO leaders will be hammering out details of an Afghan drawdown, which might sound like welcome news at first, but “drawdown” in the sense NATO leaders use the term doesn’t mean an end to Western intervention. Far from it. The United States has already arranged a bilateral agreement with the Karzai government in Afghanistan on a U.S. presence beyond 2014, and NATO will remain involved in nation-building in order to ensure “stability” past the 2014 date. However, as CATO foreign policy analyst Malou Innocent pointed out to me, “this is a region that has been incredibly unstable over the last 40 years. To think we can make it stable in 18 months is a pipe dream.”

And on top of the problem of history is the problem of financing. Innocent has crunched the numbers: The cost of training the 230,000 to 350,000 Afghan personnel needed to transfer security responsibility from NATO to Afghanistan’s civilian government could run up to $6 billion a year. The Afghan government only collects $2 billion a year. And there’s no guarantee Afghanistan’s civilian government will last once U.S. combat troops are out. “Karzai’s not going to survive, we might as well accept that,” Shaffer says. But in fact the United States and NATO have not accepted it. Instead, they’ve pinned their drawdown and transition plans on the survival of the Karzai government.

Unforunately, most of these uncomfortable details will go unmentioned at the NATO summit this weekend, which Senate Foreign Relations European Affairs Subcommittee Chair Jeanne Shaheen says will provide an opportunity to “reaffirm the importance of NATO” and “recognize its continuing influence around the globe.” Said Shaheen to reporters on Tuesday: “NATO has been the most successful military and security alliance in modern history, and it continues to have that role, and for those who question whether it’s still functional, whether we continue to have interests in our transatlantic partnership with Europe; I think [this summit is] an opportunity to reaffirm and reconfirm those important relationships.” The fact that NATO is losing the war in Afghanistan, or that NATO’s mission in Libya had the alliance acting as the de facto air force for the Libyan rebels, doesn’t jive with the positive image NATO will be trying to project to the world from Chicago.

As for the weekend’s wildcards, they include the participation of Pakistan’s president as well as the demonstrations expected outside. President Asif Ali Zardari was invited to the NATO summit only in the last week, likely after the Pakistani government indicated it would lift its blockade of supplies headed to NATO troops in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s intelligence service remains one of the Taliban’s most powerful patrons, while the Pakistani government has often been left out of the West’s discussions on Afghanistan. That, Shaffer told me, was a mistake. “Pakistanis should’ve been key contributors from day one in whatever happens in Afghanistan. They’re going to look at this as an insult.”

Meanwhile, protesters are coming from as far as Portland and cops are coming from as far as Philadelphia to meet them. And although the G-8 Summit was initially planned to immediately precede the NATO Summit in Chicago, the G-8 gathering was moved to Camp David at the last minute. Which raises the question of why both summits weren’t just scheduled for Camp David in the first place, thus sparing Chicago residents of the security-related hassles they're bound to face. But then again, if Chicago wasn't playing host to NATO, the city wouldn't be able to “highlight its economic vitality, its arts and architecture, and its can-do spirit,” as Chicago’s NATO Host Committee boasts. Who cares about shutting down half of a metropolis when the city government's can-do reputation is at stake?

Ed Krayewski is an associate editor of 24/7 News at Reason.com.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ||

    which is expected to cost the city of Chicago about $55 million

    Why?

    NATO: We're coming to Chicago.

    Chicago: Great! Send us a check to cover the security costs.

    NATO: No dice.

    Chicago: Why not?

    NATO: Fuck You, that's why.

  • The Other Kevin||

    This is just a more expensive version of inviting the cool kids over for a sleepover.

  • ||

    $55 million?! What a bunch of small-time operators... Canadians managed to spend $1 billion for a combined G20-G8 meeting in Toronto.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2.....t#Security

  • R C Dean||

    What's with the NATO/OTAN logo? What does OTAN mean?

  • A Frayed Knot||

    OTAN: Organisation du traité de l'Atlantique Nord

  • death panelist||

    Reminds me of O.N.A.N.

  • ||

    What, did the French cry about that one?

    Linguistic protectionist streaks are so fucking repulsive in cultures.

  • ||

    Yes, it makes me barf reading any comment thread on an article even remotely related to immigration. Somebody will inevitably say that nobody should speak Spanish in this country.

    Heard a caller in on the radio yesterday morning in fact. She said that she was at a McDonalds and a Hispanic man ordered in Spanish and the cashier responded in kind. I was thinking, well that's great customer service but then she went on to say that she interrupted them and said they should be speaking English. It didn't occur to her to mind her own fucking business.

  • Paul.||

    She said that she was at a McDonalds and a Hispanic man ordered in Spanish and the cashier responded in kind. I was thinking, well that's great customer service

    I know, right? Down where I work, I drove by a billboard completely in Spanish, no english subtext, 100% in spanish advertising some product. My first thought: Ain't capitalism grand?

    But I think that's just me. A lot of other people get offended by that shit.

  • ||

    I won't be happy until the advertising landscape looks like Snow Crash, personally.

  • ||

    It's one thing when people voluntary choose to speak whatever language they want with one another. It's another when they demand to be taught in their first language in the public schools of a country that primarily uses a different language, demand paperwork in their first language at their local bank or government office, insist mandated warning labels be printed in their first language, get pissed off at people who don't speak their language for failing to properly accommodate them, or otherwise impose upon others' time and resources. That's what gets people pissed off. I wouldn't expect to go to Japan, for example, and see everything translated into English for my convenience, then pitch a bitch and go crying to the nearest civil rights attorney if wasn't.

    There's a difference between being a tourist and an immigrant. If you decide to permanently make a foreign land your home, you owe it to yourself to learn the local language since it is a prerequisite to fully understanding the local laws, government, customs, culture, etc. It doesn't take a racist or xenophobe to think that a person with no understanding of the language in which a nation's constitution and laws are written may not fully understand or appreciate their application. It opens up the immigrant to abuse by unscrupulous people in positions of power, if nothing else.

  • Sevo||

    ..."It's another when they demand to be taught in their first language in the public schools of a country that primarily uses a different language, demand paperwork in their first language at their local bank or government office, insist mandated warning labels be printed in their first language, get pissed off at people who...."

    Uh, "they" (meaning some rent-seeking organization claiming to represent X) can only do that if there are d-bag politicos who are willing to sell such services for votes.

  • Sevo||

    Anecdote:
    Local short-order cafe. I get my eggs and sausage, say 'gracias' to the (central-American-looking) cook. He responds with only a slight accent 'you're welcome'; not much of a smile.
    Next time I say 'thanks'. He says 'you're welcome' with big smile.
    He has no desire for me to learn his native language, regardless of what the 'organizers' wish.

  • ||

    Very true. In the absence of a grievance lobby (not to mention the absence of a welfare state, which pushes immigrants immediately into the marketplace where they usually learn very quickly the easiest way to do business), a certain basic level of assimilation usually happens naturally because of the aforementioned disadvantage that non-assimilation, particularly in terms of the language gap, places upon the new guy. It's part of the reason why the United States did just fine under a basically wide open immigration policy until the early 1900's

  • Peter L||

    So here in Michigan we should all be learning to speak in Chippewa?

    Remember that many people who were speaking spanish in texas did not move there, the national boundary line moved past them.

  • ||

    Onan
    (Genesis 38:3-10) Struck down by god for masterbating.

  • Peter L||

    OTAN: because the french do everything backwards.

  • death panelist||

  • ChrisO||

    Portland protesters meet Philadelphia police. That ought to be interesting.

  • Bucky||

    are you kidding? Occupiers walked all over the city. while people trying to make a living were left hanging...
    you think the the show-oaf Owebama is going let them break the heads of his largest voting block. shit, even the mayor of philly called Zimmerman an assassin...
    and three guesses who thinks that they can use that to get into higher office...

  • NL_||

    As a Chicago resident, I've gotten like 80 bajillion different warnings from every conceivable local organization warning me about this summit. My landlord has been warning us all for weeks to carry IDs to get through police blockades. Employers are planning to let workers work from home wherever possible to avoid traffic delays. And helicopters and sirens have been buzzing around for days and days. I wish I could feel like there was a point to all this.

  • Rich||

    I wish I could feel like there was a point to all this.

    Didn't you see MP's 4:38 comment?

  • DJF||

    "'"NATO has been the most successful military and security alliance in modern history, "'

    NATO was successful when it did not fight the Soviets. Now the Soviets are gone its searching the world for someone to fight so that it can justify its existence and especially the huge bureaucracy that has built up over the years

    And justify its new billion dollar headquarters its building

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/new.....llion.html

  • DJF||

    And the “brilliant’ planners at NATO decide in this “age of terrorism” to build their headquarters with glass walls and roof. I wonder how soon before they demand another billion dollars to fix the security problem of building a military headquarters which is vulnerable to terrorist bombs?

  • CougarFlirts_Com||

    Experienced Cougar Ladies seeking and dating younger Men Toy Boys.(On my name

  • Sevo||

    Ha HA! Squirrels eat spam posting!
    Hey, squirrels need love too (now and then).

  • joy||

    Shaffer says. But in fact the United States and NATO have not accepted it. Instead, http://www.petwinkel.com/pet-polo-c-38.html they’ve pinned their drawdown and transition plans on the survival of the Karzai government.

  • ||

    "Who cares about shutting down half of a metropolis when the city government's can-do reputation is at stake?"

    After all, we skeptics have to learn that FedGov can indeed do something!

  • ||

    Can't we just depart from Afghanistan and leave the Eurotrolls to take care of themselves? Pretty please, DC?

  • sweeterjan||

    Shaffer says. But in http://www.vendreshox.com/nike-shox-tl1-c-12.html fact the United States and NATO have not accepted it. Instead, they’ve pinned their drawdown and transition plans on the survival of the Karzai government.

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