The recent NATO summit in Chicago left much to be desired. Many commentators could not identify concrete results from the gathering, and the few specific steps taken were slammed. Even the protests against the Alliance were underwhelming. A look at the gloomy media coverage following the Summit:
Despite praises for NATO from Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, Chicago did not necessarily see the benefits of NATO coming to the city. A Chicago newspaper, the Herald News, not only wrote that nothing important happened at the summit, but it also summed up the local negative reaction:
And where were signs of that supposed $128 million in direct economic benefit from the summit? The Loop was relatively deserted over the weekend, and many business owners complained about a sharp drop-off in customers.
Despite irking some of the locals, surely the Summit paved the way for a new future in transatlantic relations? Sadly, that does not seem to be the case. As Stephen Walt wrote in Foreign Policy:
What's the most useless waste of time, money, and fuel that you can think of? A NASCAR race? A Star Trek convention? The Burning Man festival?
Well, right up there with those obvious granfalloons is the recent NATO summit in Chicago. I've now read the official statements and White House press releases, and it's tempting to see the whole thing as a subtle insult to our collective intelligence. To paraphrase Churchill, never have so many world leaders flown so far to accomplish so little.
Of course, not everyone was so pessimistic about the results of the Summit. Christopher S. Chivvis of RAND wrote:
NATO is becoming a more flexible alliance, and starting to look beyond Afghanistan toward the future. Even beyond Afghanistan, the challenges and uncertainties facing the alliance are real. But, as the summit showed, NATO's relevance persists.
Despite this rosier view, the agreement regarding Afghanistan drew heated criticism. For example, Der Spiegel noted that the Summit simply codified an existing plan:
With this agreement the partners are essentially adhering to an already established timeline for ending the lengthy conflict in Afghanistan by withdrawing some 130,000 NATO-led troops.
Kenneth Roth questioned the commitments of NATO Members to the war-torn country. Roth writes in Foreign Policy that, despite the grand gestures made by participants at the Summit:
The United States and its NATO partners have fallen disturbingly short on three key issues - ensuring that security forces abide by the law, marginalizing the warlords at the heart of the Karzai power structure, and providing meaningful protection for the rights of women.
And David Warren, in the Ottawa Citizen, simply stated:
Nothing was achieved. In particular, new supply routes into Afghanistan are needed, to compensate for Pakistan’s increasing non-co-operation; but none was found. The hard truth is that the political cost of being visibly allied with NATO now exceeds the material rewards, in all surrounding countries; and this is increasingly the case in Afghanistan itself.
Warren even pointed out that:
The protests in Chicago were a pathetic joke...We had protests against cutbacks to municipal mental health services. We had union rights and many other talking points that had nothing to do with NATO whatever.
Apparently even the protestors could not get things right.
All this negativity surrounding the NATO Summit in Chicago from the media stands in contrast to the stated views of leaders and officials. For example, the most recent edition of the NATO Review includes articles from people such as Barack Obama and Anders Fogh Rasmussen on the importance of NATO. In the edition, Supreme Allied Commander Europe, Admiral James Stavridis, writes with regard to NATO operations in Libya:
The long-standing political-military relationships developed through Alliance operations, exercises, and partnerships helped the quick, coordinated start of operations with unprecedented speed.
The words of Admiral Stavridis highlight the practical benefits of NATO. The Alliance does indeed offer something to its members, especially in times of crisis. In contrast, the NATO Summit in Chicago did not showcase such practical benefits; instead, the gathering served to show a NATO unsure of its place in the world. Hopefully, the next summit will not be so disappointing.
Joshua Clapp is an editor of atlantic-community.org.