By Raul Andrei Dimitriu
The largest and most complex North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) Summit in history took place in Bucharest, Romania, from 2 to 4 April. The scope of the summit was to enable policymakers, scholars and business people to review and debate the most pertinent concerns facing NATO and the international community. Essential to the discourse shared by over 6000 delegates – including 49 heads of state – were the primary issues of: concretising the Alliance’s presence in Afghanistan; the extension of NATO membership to Albania, Croatia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia; energy security; and the stability of the Western Balkans.
Potential enlargement talks for Ukraine and Georgia’s NATO Action Plan membership were to prove a point of heated contention for the 26 member states. US President George Bush strongly supported such an action, to the condemnation of Russia, Britain, France and Germany. Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia would view such an action as directly defiant to Russian interests. To this end, Britain, France and Germany’s opposition led to postponing the offer of membership. The concern behind their decision was that of ensuring that relations with Russia were not strained even further, particularly given that Europe’s incessant reliance on Russian oil is growing by the day.
The tensions between Russia and NATO were also apparent during the NATO-Russia Council session on 4 April, given the failure to reach consensus on key points during bilateral talks. Vladimir Putin strongly opposed membership of Georgia and Ukraine to NATO, as well as US plans to establish missile defense systems in the Czech Republic and Poland – Russia viewed these developments as a direct threat to its territorial and military integrity. The above bilateral tensions evidenced during the summit have emphasised that fundamental internal disagreement exists among members, who are split on the appropriate approach to Russian collaboration with NATO.
Dissent among members was also showcased during discussions on reinforcing the NATO task force in Afghanistan, with Canada even threatening complete withdrawal from the region unless at least 1000 extra troops were deployed. To this end, a compromise was reached, with France and Romania pledging to fortify their presence in the troubled region.
On conclusion of the summit, Putin was pleased NATO did not invite Georgia and Ukraine to the Membership Action Plan. Bush said he was “satisfied with the NATO commitment to Afghanistan” and affirmed that further debate on enlargement was mandatory.