NATO’s crucial summit
August 14th, 2014
03:31 PM ET

NATO’s crucial summit

By F. Stephen Larrabee and Ian J. Brzezinski, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: F. Stephen Larrabee holds the Distinguished Chair in European Security, Emeritus, at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation and served on the National Security Council staff in the Carter administration. Ian Brzezinski is a resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for European and NATO Policy in the administration of George W. Bush. The views expressed are their own.

Just weeks before its scheduled September 4 summit in Wales, NATO is bogged down in bureaucratic wrangling and losing important momentum. Without firm intervention and leadership from the White House, the summit is unlikely to provide the far-reaching strategic vision and initiative that is badly needed in the face of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attempt to destabilize Ukraine.

To its credit, the Obama administration has pressed its European Allies to do more to reverse the decline of their defense capabilities. Many of Washington’s proposals – including reanimating the goal that alliance members should spend two percent or more of GDP on defense, hold more assertive exercises, make command structure modifications and carry out more realistic contingency planning – are sensible and point the alliance in the right direction. But without a more forceful engagement from President Obama, many of them may never be implemented.

Moreover, there is a real danger that before the summit opens, Putin may succumb to strong nationalist pressures to send Russian regular forces into eastern Ukraine, presenting NATO with another fait accompli on top of its occupation of Crimea. FULL POST

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Topics: NATO
Why expanding NATO would deter Russia, stabilize Europe  
June 25th, 2014
03:15 PM ET

Why expanding NATO would deter Russia, stabilize Europe  

By Tomas Valasek and Damon Wilson, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Tomáš Valášek is the permanent representative of Slovakia to NATO. Damon Wilson is executive vice president at the Atlantic Council and former NATO official. The views expressed are their own.

In the face of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Europe’s east, NATO has reaffirmed the alliance’s commitment to defend “every inch” of its members’ territory. Right now, it must also make clear that it will respond to any Russian measures to undermine stability in Europe as a whole, especially the security of countries waiting to get into NATO. The cost of not doing so is to invite more Russian aggression.

While NATO membership for Ukraine is not on the table in Brussels or Kiev, Ukraine’s sovereignty may be impacted by what the alliance decides about what to offer Montenegro and Georgia, the two most prepared candidates for membership. NATO foreign ministers have started talks in Brussels on Wednesday that will pave the way for a decision on enlargement at NATO’s September summit in Wales. Unfortunately, some key NATO members are not yet convinced about the benefits of enlargement.

That decision will be based mostly on whether candidates are prepared to meet the responsibilities of membership. But allies also need to consider whether accession of additional countries contributes to NATO’s security. Enlargement is not a favor to aspiring members. Any next round must strengthen the security of the Alliance and the stability of Europe.


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Topics: NATO • Russia • Ukraine
U.S. credibility at stake in Ukraine
March 2nd, 2014
06:58 PM ET

U.S. credibility at stake in Ukraine

By Andrew C. Kuchins, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Andrew CKuchins is a senior fellow and director of the CSIS Russia and Eurasia Program. You can follow the Center for Strategic and International Studies @CSISThe views expressed are his own.

Vladimir Putin has dramatically raised the stakes with what amounts to a stealth annexation of Crimea this weekend, securing in the process a unanimous vote from the Russian parliament allowing for the deployment of Russian military forces in Ukraine.

To date, the Obama administration's response, including Friday's vague warning about "costs," has amounted to little more than a threat to boycott the G8 meeting taking place in Sochi in June. Did the president's team forget that Putin did not even show up when Obama hosted the G8 in 2012? Was that not a crystal clear message about what Putin really thinks about the G8 in general, and Obama in particular?

Regardless, the administration has clearly been caught flat-footed again by Putin. It is less clear, though, how the United States will respond.

What has taken place over the past two days merely underscores in the most urgent way that we must, together with our European allies, immediately step up with economic and security assistance to bolster the capacity and credibility of the interim government in Kiev. And in doing so, the Obama administration must abandon its oxymoronic inclination to "lead from behind" because the imminent danger is that of a broader use of military and quasi-military tools to effectively separate other eastern regions of Ukraine from the rest of the country. This would have disastrous consequences for Ukrainians and U.S. credibility around the world. Just imagine, for example, the takeaway for Japanese and Chinese leaders about U.S. commitment as they spar in their own territorial dispute.

Yes, Crimea may already be gone. But we have to make absolutely clear – and in the most credible way possible – that Russian military intervention in other regions of Ukraine is a red line that will mean war with Ukrainian and NATO military forces if it is crossed. U.S. and NATO naval forces need to be deployed to the Black Sea in close proximity to the Ukrainian Coast. Military forces of neighboring NATO member countries, meanwhile, should be deployed closer to the Ukrainian border.

This all presupposes that the government in Kiev will request such support, and that Ukrainian military forces, which have been largely absent for the past two days, also need to be ready to be deployed. If Ukraine's military and/or NATO is not prepared to take such measures, then we are simply letting ourselves look foolish with empty threats. But doing nothing would be a terrible misjudgment. Putin has proven agile in asserting Russian interests, and for the West to be effective in its response will require immediate, focused, and forceful action to make Putin recalculate his risk/reward equation.

In addition, the U.S. should work with its European allies to flesh out a package of economic assistance for the interim Ukrainian government. Significant commitments of money must be made immediately available to demonstrate a commitment to Ukrainians. Of course, Moscow and Kiev both have enough historical experience to be highly skeptical that we are ready to make significant financial commitments to Ukraine – that is the core factor that ignited this crisis back in November of last year. And Washington and the EU also have plenty of reason to doubt that any Ukrainian government can sustain its commitment to deep and sustained economic reforms that will get to the root of the endemic corruption among Ukrainian elites that has left its economy so weak and vulnerable.

But while such doubts are understandable, we must force ourselves to make the leap of faith that this time Ukraine will get it right, and the West should hope that the very real threat of the fragmentation of the country creates the sense of crisis necessary to break down the old patterns of behavior.

Ultimately, time is of the essence. And although the reality is that many Americans might feel perfectly able to live with a Ukraine without Crimea, any further fragmentation could be catastrophic not just for those living in Ukraine, but also for European security and the credibility of the U.S. commitment to it. Even if Ukraine is not at the center of Europe, it is still a part of it, and our failure to defend its sovereignty in this time of need could prove to be the final blow for a NATO that has in recent years struggled to find its place in the world.

Directly confronting Putin would not be as risky as many fear – Putin is, after all, a calculating opportunist who will take advantage of weakness where he sees it. He is extremely unlikely, therefore, to risk war if he clearly understands the "cost" of crossing a real red line. The question is whether he has any belief that the United States and its allies will step up.

I hope, for the sake of Europe’s security, that President Obama proves him wrong.

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Topics: Europe • NATO • Russia • Ukraine • United States
How to fight piracy (and how not to)
September 27th, 2012
01:55 PM ET

How to fight piracy (and how not to)

By Urmila Venugopalan, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Urmila Venugopalan is the South Asia manager at Oceans Beyond Piracy. You can follow her on Twitter @Urmila_V and @OBPiracySAsia. The views expressed are her own.

Maritime piracy has long been considered the scourge of commercial shipping in the Indian Ocean. Recently, however, a combination of government- and private sector-led action has seen the number of pirate attacks in the region plunge to their lowest levels in almost five years.

This year’s statistics are unusually encouraging: the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reported in July that Somali piracy activity fell by almost 60 percent, down from 163 incidents in the first half of 2011 to just 69 in the same period of this year. Somali pirates also hijacked only 13 ships, down from 21, according to the IMB.

Robust cooperation among international navies has certainly played a key role in driving this trend. Regular naval patrols – led by NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield, the EU’s Operation Atlanta, and Combined Task Force 151 – have undoubtedly disrupted several pirate attacks. China, India and Japan have also independently contributed to this effort – in a significant move at the start of this year, the three countries agreed to set aside their rivalries and coordinate their escort convoys in the Gulf of Aden.


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Topics: Conflict • Global • Military • NATO • Somalia
August 16th, 2012
04:18 PM ET

Civil servants hold the key to Afghan prosperity

By Javid Ahmad, Special to CNN

Javid Ahmad, a native of Kabul, is a program coordinator with the Asia Program of the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Washington, D.C. The views expressed are his own.

Recent events have underscored the extent to which Afghanistan’s inept leadership undermines the country’s nascent administrative capabilities. Last week, two of President Hamid Karzai’s most powerful cabinet colleagues – Defense Minister Rahim Wardak and Interior Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi – lost no-confidence motions in the Afghan parliament and were disqualified from holding office due to their perceived inaction over a spate of violence. Bismillah Khan was also reportedly accused of carving out his own ethnic Tajik fiefdom within the Afghan police force and alienating and marginalizing Pashtun officials working under him.

As Karzai struggled to find replacements for those two, the Afghan television network Tolo released bank statements purportedly belonging to Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal, which suggested more than $1 million in deposits (keep in mind that Afghan cabinet ministers receive an average monthly salary of $3,500). Zakhilwal’s claims that he was remunerated for his work as consultant before joining the government in 2005 ring hollow – nongovernmental organizations and foreign government entities operating in Afghanistan don’t pay that lavishly. More importantly, all of the deposits coincided with Zakhilwal’s time in the Afghan government as finance minister and as the financial chief of President Karzai’s reelection campaign.


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Topics: Afghanistan • NATO • United States
The military uncertainties of an attack on Iran
August 15th, 2012
04:37 PM ET

The military uncertainties of an attack on Iran

By Michael O’Hanlon, Special to CNN

Michael O’Hanlon is senior fellow at Brookings and author of The Wounded Giant: America’s Armed Forces in an Age of Austerity. The views expressed are his own.

Military strikes against the uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz and Qom, together with other possible targets related to Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, could last for a single day and single sortie – or they could last for several days or even weeks. The latter possibility of course implies American participation too, and probably requires the use of air bases in one or more Gulf states as well, given the likely U.S. interest in using stealthy planes that at present don’t fly from aircraft carriers (though B-2 bombers could fly from Diego Garcia, for example).

So what is the likely effectiveness, and what are the likely risks, of each possible approach? I’d argue that there is there is significant unpredictability about how well an air campaign by Israel in particular would work – not least in terms of how much of the existing Iranian nuclear infrastructure it would destroy, and how long it might take Iran to recover (and that’s even leaving aside the huge issue of how Iran might retaliate).


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Topics: Iran • Iraq • Israel • Middle East • Military • NATO • Nuclear • United States
America's 7 mistakes in Afghanistan
August 2nd, 2012
01:11 PM ET

America's 7 mistakes in Afghanistan

By Michael Rubin, Special to CNN

Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School. He also teaches Afghan history to deploying U.S. Army units. The views expressed are solely those of the author.

More than a decade into the conflict, the Afghan war isn’t going well. Politically, Afghanistan is a mess. While some analysts still say the American counterinsurgency strategy works, Afghans beg to differ. Their country was safer ten years ago than it is today.  The problem wasn’t the invasion itself, but rather than aftermath. The mission to deny terrorists a vacuum was essential, so where did the United States go wrong?

Here are the seven key mistakes the United States and its allies have made:

Rapidity of Reform. Cynics may say Afghanistan never changes, but that is nonsense. Afghanistan today is far different than it was 30 years ago, let alone a century ago. The fact is, Afghanistan changes: Just very slowly. The experience of Amanullah Khan in the first decades of the twentieth century and the Saur Revolution in 1978 demonstrate the correlation between rapidity of reform and insurgent backlash. Zahir Shah (r. 1933-1973), on the other hand, moved slower but presided over some of Afghanistan’s most successful reforms. It’s possible to bring good, representative governance to Afghanistan and perhaps even democracy. Just not on a Washington political timeline.


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Topics: Afghanistan • NATO • Taliban • United States
June 26th, 2012
09:55 AM ET

Would Turkey leave NATO?

Editor's note: Soner Cagaptay is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a GPS contributor. You can find all his blog posts here. Col. Richard Outzen is a foreign area officer in the U.S. Army. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Soner Cagaptay and Col. Richard Outzen.

By Soner Cagaptay and Col. Richard Outzen, Special to CNN

Soner Cagaptay

Only a few years ago, Turkey’s commitment to NATO was in doubt. Some were even suggesting that Turkey would abandon the alliance — or that at least, the alliance should seriously lower its expectations.

But recent events in Syria, including last week's downing of a Turkish plane by Damascus, and Turkish-Iranian competition in the Middle East have been increasing NATO's worth for the Turks.

Turkey has also signed up to join NATO’s missile-defense project, putting its name under what has been NATO’s core mission for decades: meeting common threats with common action by democratic states. (In this modern-day example, it’s Iranian missiles as the threat in question, not Russian tanks.)

For the moment, at least, Turkey has found comfort in NATO’s security. But Ankara’s long-term commitment to the alliance should not be taken for granted, because Turkey has at least two strategic alternatives to NATO.


Topics: Iran • NATO • Syria • Turkey
Zakaria: NATO seeking relevance
May 21st, 2012
09:01 AM ET

Zakaria: NATO seeking relevance

The following is an edited transcript of a recent interview with Fareed Zakaria on "John King USA," talking about the NATO summit in Chicago and NATO's relevance in the world today.

KING: This year's NATO summit is in Chicago. And topping the official agenda is the transition in Afghanistan, but there are other giant issues for the 34 heads of state attending.

ZAKARIA: The truth is NATO was a defensive alliance. It was designed for, really, to protect against Russia, against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. And ever since 1990 when all that ended, it's been flailing around looking for something to do.

But it is a very useful time when all these heads of state, heads of government get together, and there's always something or the other on the agenda that's pretty crucial. FULL POST

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Topics: Afghanistan • NATO
May 16th, 2012
02:58 PM ET

G8 and NATO-athon, with Pakistan at the table

Editor's note: Peter Bergen is CNN's national security analyst and the author of "Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden, from 9/11 to Abbottabad."

It's the diplomatic equivalent of hosting both the World Cup and the World Series in the same country on the same weekend.

On Saturday President Obama welcomes the leaders of the world's most powerful countries to the G8 conference at his country retreat at Camp David in Maryland. And the next day he hosts some two dozen NATO heads of state in Chicago.

The challenges of this Diplopaloozaa include some complicated logistics: How do you get eight world leaders and their delegations comfortably situated in the rustic wood chalets that make up Camp David, and which has never hosted this many heads of state before?

Read more from Peter Bergen about the challenges, the Syria question and the last-minute guest at the NATO summit: Pakistan.

Topics: NATO • Pakistan • President Obama
March 2nd, 2012
02:27 PM ET

Poll: Should NATO intervene in Syria?

(This is not a scientific poll.)


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Topics: NATO • Syria
February 6th, 2012
03:00 PM ET

NATO: From military alliance to talk shop?

Editor’s Note: This is an edited version of an article from the ‘Oxford Analytica Daily Brief’. Oxford Analytica is a global analysis and advisory firm that draws on a worldwide network of experts to advise its clients on their strategy and performance.

France intends to withdraw its troops from NATO-led operations in Afghanistan by 2013. This is earlier than the previously agreed deadline of 2014. This announcement, coupled with signs that other allies - including the United States - may be rushing to leave Afghanistan, threatens to humiliate the alliance, with severe consequences for trans-Atlantic security.

Every generation of Western politicians has dreaded the possibility of NATO's demise. In the 1960s, governments assumed that the anti-Americanism generated by the Vietnam War would tear the alliance apart. A decade later, there were worries that detente would produce the same result. When the Cold War ended, politicians feared that the 'glue' provided by the Soviet threat would disappear. Yet NATO defied these predictions and survived with an increased membership and enhanced reputation. FULL POST

Topics: NATO
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