The heads of state and government of the NATO member states had three priorities in Chicago: the mission in Afghanistan, military capabilities and international partnerships. Atlantic Initiative surveyed 32 German experts between May 23rd and June 7th from think thanks like the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, the German Council on Foreign Relations and the European Council on Foreign Relations; from universities in Hamburg, Berlin and Munich; and from media sources like Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Augen Geradeaus and the Global Europe.
The Alliance wanted to demonstrate its continued support for Afghanistan while specifying the transfer of security responsibilities until the end of 2014 as well as continued support after the security transfer. The resolutions in Chicago yielded however, by an overwhelming majority of experts (72%), no change in opinion. As compared to before the Summit, only 9% of experts are currently more optimistic while 19% are more pessimistic.
A large majority of those surveyed had lower expectations for the Smart Defense initiative. Secretary General Rasmussen wants to respond to the financial crisis with a renewed culture of cooperation. Member states should strengthen their military capabilities through multinational solutions and more efficient investments.
Nevertheless, none of the experts are of the opinion that the initiative will become the new way in which NATO does business by "building capabilities together". Only one in five experts surveyed think the initiative will ‘produce innovation but not until at least five years from now'; this was the second positive option available. The negative assessments prevailed: 17% believe Smart Defense would provide an excuse for the allies to make further defense budget cuts, and 33% claim it will mask NATO's inability to make necessary reforms. Moreover, the results of the experts who selected "Other Answers" are overwhelmingly skeptical as well; altogether 72% of those surveyed could be considered pessimistic and only 19% as optimistic.
An international group of 60 experts, who were asked the same question by the Atlantic Council and the magazine Foreign Policy in the lead-up to the Chicago Summit, were clearly more optimistic. There were just as many positive assessments of the Smart Defense initiative as negative ones.
The majority of those surveyed believe that NATO's priority of strengthening international partnerships was achieved to some extent in Chicago (53%). Almost as many of those questioned (47%), however, are of the opinion that the Alliance was not at all able to do this.
Two-thirds of the foreign policy experts consider the Chicago Summit to be "partly successful". A quarter of them view the Summit to be "not very successful", although only one participant considered it a failure.
Above all, the experts judge the display of unity to be NATO's biggest success, followed by the decisions on Afghanistan and missile defense, which can also be counted as a Smart Defense project. The declaration of the interim missile defense's capability is the concrete summit decision, which met with the most approval from the experts. The reason for missile defense being labeled a success has less to do with technical progress, and more to do with the fact that the declaration went through despite massive pressure from Russia. In addition, the declaration will now be difficult to reverse.
Similarly, those questioned in the survey, made possible by a grant from NATO, where admittedly not optimistic about the Afghanistan strategy. However, the experts consider it a success that NATO was able to paper over its differences - President Hollande held tightly to his campaign promise to withdraw French troops by the end of 2012 - and avoid an open fight. In both cases, the Alliance is credited with making the best out of a bad situation.
Several specialists stress the importance of not underestimating the significance of the regular meetings between the heads of state and government for cohesion in the Alliance. The fact that the Summit took place was in itself a success. Others also praise the fact that despite many differences, the Summit presented a clear image of unity within NATO to the outside world. Meanwhile, other experts would have preferred it if NATO had debated some controversial issues. As such, the lack of debate over operations in Libya and the situation in Syria, as well as the upheavals in the Arab world in general, was considered a missed opportunity.
At the top of the list of missed opportunities, however, was Afghanistan. While a fifth of the experts saw the resolutions on Afghanistan as the biggest success of the Summit, just as many believed it was a lost opportunity. They had hoped for more, namely a "realistic as well as sustainable exit strategy", according to Michael Weis from the Global Observer.
Another big missed opportunity brought up frequently was how to address the military imbalance between the United States and the European members. The latter should carry more of the burden, and cooperation between NATO and the EU must move forward.
Other participants criticize the failure to include Russia in missile defense and the failure to clarify and communicate the future relevance of NATO. Ulrich Speck from the Global Europe is disappointed that there was no "honest evaluation of the current situation - what do America and Europe want to do together in the world, what can they do together, and how much is each willing to invest?" Multiple participants especially criticize the Europeans for their lack of strategic foresight.
Tobias Bunde, a PhD student at the Freie University writing his dissertation about NATO, found fault with "the half-hearted discussions on partnerships, which for years has been a delicate issue in NATO. Although a conference with 13 selected partner states took place, not enough attention was devoted to the theme as it deserves."
To bring to a close, we should consider the words of political scientist Stephanie Weiss: "[We] should abandon the summit hype and its production of expectations and images for the general public that stem from the interplay of politics and media. These must inevitably disappoint and will also hardly be perceived by the general public due to sensory overload."
Joerg Wolf is editor-in-chief of atlantic-community.org. This survey was made possible by the generous support of NATO.
Michael Ashkenazi, Bonn International Center for Conversion
Sebastian Bruns, Institut für Sicherheitspolitik der Christian-Albrechts-Universität
Prof. Dr. Michael Brzoska, Institut für Friedensforschung und Sicherheitspolitik der Universität Hamburg
Tobias Bunde, Freie Universität Berlin
Hans-Heinrich Dieter, Generalleutnant a.D. und Blogger für Klartext
Dr. Hans-Georg Ehrhart, Institut für Friedensforschung und Sicherheitspolitik der Universität Hamburg
Dieter Farwick, Brigadegeneral a.D. und World Security Network
Sebastian Feyock, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Auswärtige Politik
Prof. Dr. Matthias Fifka, Cologne Business School und Deutsch-Amerikanisches Institut Nürnberg
Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
Prof. Dr. Stephan Fröhlich, Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg
Dr. Ulrike Guérot, European Council on Foreign Relations
Prof. Dr. Helga Haftendorn, Freie Universität Berlin
Dr. Hubertus Hoffmann, World Security Network
Dr. Patrick Keller, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung
Dr. Claudia Major, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik
Prof. Dr. Carlo Masala, Bundeswehr Universität München
Dr. Henning Riecke, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Auswärtige Politik
Kai Schönfeld, Blog Sicherheit vernetzt
Alexander Schröder, Bundesverband Sicherheitspolitik an Hochschulen
Jacob Schrot, Initiative Junge Transatlantiker
Svenja Sinjen, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Auswärtige Politik
Dr. Ulrich Speck, Global Europe
Sascha Stoltenow, Bendler Blog
Dr. Sylke Tempel, Internationale Politik
Prof. Dr. Johannes Varwick, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg
Karsten Voigt, ehemaliger Koordinator für die deutsch-amerikanische Zusammenarbeit im Auswärtigen Amt
Michael Weis, Global Observer
Thomas Wiegold, Augen geradeaus
Dr. Klaus Wittmann, Brigadegeneral a.D. und Aspen Institut Berlin
A university professor wanted to remain anonymous.