UK NATO Summit in 2014 to 'lock in' commitments on Afghanistan, burden-sharing and Smart Defence

By Nigel Chamberlain, NATO Watch

Announcing that Britain will host the special NATO Summit in 2014 to coincide with the withdrawal from Afghanistan, Prime Minister David Cameron said on 27 September:

The summit will also be about the future of our alliance. Britain has always been at the forefront of shaping the alliance, from its start in 1949 to NATO's current operations, and the 2014 summit will be critical in ensuring NATO remains a relevant, modern, adaptable force fit for the 21st century.

Secretary General Rasmussen met the Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary William Hague and Defence Secretary Philip Hammond during his visit to London on 18 September. Although NATO provided no details of what was discussed, it might be assumed that thoughts on location, timing and agenda items for the Summit were exchanged.

The announcement of the next NATO Summit was made following a meeting between the Secretary General and President Obama at the White House on 31 May. President Obama said the Summit would “underscore this final chapter in our Afghan operations” and to “lock in some of the progress that’s already been made into a set of commitments that are clearly understood by all the NATO members”.

The President also said the Summit will look at building up NATO's ability to address cyber threats and "lock in" commitments by members: "That requires burden-sharing on the part of all NATO members. It means that even during times of austerity, that we work smarter together to ensure that we can meet and are prepared for any threats that may arise.”

Former NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson said that:

This summit will have the clear mission to define the continuing relevance of the Alliance in an unpredictable and uncertain world. … As the principle collective security organisation in the world NATO takes the lead in showing what needs to be done and how it can be achieved. Britain is in a good position to offer guidance at this crucial time.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Stephen Fidler reports that NATO diplomats have indicated that the Summit is likely to be held in October. This would increase the likelihood that Anders Fogh Rasmussen will be asked to extend his term for a second time, as diplomats say it would make sense for him to stay on until the summit, where he might also formally hand over to his, as yet, unnamed successor. He adds that “we can also predict with some certainty that the summit won’t be held in Scotland. That’s because the Scottish independence referendum will be held on Sept. 18, 2014”.

The Independent Defence Correspondent Kim Sengupta writes:

The meeting will be held at a time of sweeping defence cuts. … There is also uncertainty about the structure of the UK’s military, with next year’s referendum on Scottish independence looming. The Commons Defence Committee criticised the Scottish and UK Governments yesterday for not providing adequate information about the effect of a Yes vote on defence, including the relocation of Trident – a key element of NATO’s nuclear deterrence.

That UK House of Commons Defence Committee report, 'The Defence Implications of Possible Scottish Independence' concluded that the Scottish National Party (SNP):

Appears to envisage an independent Scotland which is outward looking, with a strong maritime focus given its geographic position. It would be keen to collaborate closely with northern European neighbours and expects to work with and through the UN, EU and NATO. Beyond that, however, we have found it very difficult to establish how the foreign and security policy of the SNP has informed its vision for a Scottish defence force. We have seen little evidence that the Scottish Government has reached any understanding with Northern European nations regarding military co-operation.

The report address NATO membership specifically and welcomes “the acknowledgement by the Scottish Government that an independent Scotland would need to apply to join NATO rather than inheriting membership” and notes that “the process of securing NATO membership is complex and time-consuming and the response to an application from an independent Scotland would be influenced by the Scottish Government's stance on nuclear weapons”.

Finally, the MPs state that: “NATO is a nuclear alliance and we believe that any action likely to disrupt the operation of the UK's strategic deterrent would undoubtedly influence NATO Member countries' attitudes towards an application from Scotland.” This conclusion might suggest that the run-up to the Summit could be used to overshadow the Scottish referendum and add to the SNP's difficulties in securing majority support for its policy of independence from the UK as a non-nuclear Member State of NATO.

So, the stage is set for a big gathering at an undisclosed location, on a unspecified date, accompanied by huge security and the inevitable, tightly managed media circus - and all at great cost, no doubt. Despite funding being a constant, uphill battle for NATO Watch, we remain committed to organising a Shadow Summit with partners, as we did in May 2012, as well as presenting pre-Summit briefings and a post-Summit evaluation, as per Chicago 2012.