NATO Summit, Istanbul, 28-29 June 2004

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Series Details 19.7.04
Publication Date 19/07/2004
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Afghanistan and Iraq were amongst the main items on the agenda when NATO Heads of State and Government met in Istanbul on 28 and 29 June. Leaders agreed to provide more assistance to Afghanistan and to provide training for Iraqi personnel.

In Article 1 of the Istanbul Summit Communiqu�a>, participants reaffirmed 'the enduring value of the transatlantic link and of NATO as the basis for [their] collective defence and the essential forum for security consultation between Europe and North America', restated their commitment to 'the collective defence of [their] populations, territory and forces', and confirmed that 'Transatlantic cooperation is essential in defending [their] values and meeting common threats and challenges, from wherever they may come.'

Afghanistan is a crucial issue for NATO, with the credibility of the Alliance resting on the willingness of its European partners to honour their commitments to provide men and equipment. The difficulties in providing support have highlighted problems with NATO's organisation and working methods, which are apparently not well suited to operations so far from 'home'.

Providing support to Iraq also raises difficult questions for the Alliance, whose members were bitterly divided over the decision to go to war. France and Germany do not want to provide President Bush with any support which could help him win November's US Presidential election.

A week after the meeting, NATO's Secretary-General, Jaap De Hoop Scheffer, said: 'All Summits have two dimensions. They are about symbolism, and they are about substance. Both dimensions are crucially important. I am happy to report that Istanbul delivered on both counts'. Symbolism isn't a problem; whether the Alliance can deliver the substance remains to be seen.


Like the European Union, NATO is going through a period of profound change. At its Prague Summit in November 2002, the Alliance agreed that its membership would rise from 19 to 26 countries. Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia all joined in April 2004. The full membership now comprises: Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Rep, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, UK, US.

If Bulgaria and Romania accede to the EU in 2007, then - as the Financial Times pointed out - '21 of the 26 Nato members will also be in the EU' and the Alliance will effectively come to be based on the two blocs of the US and the EU. In the view of the FT, this raises a number of questions, including 'what should be the relationship between this US-EU alliance and the UN, in a world no longer divided by the iron curtain? [and] Is there really an enduring need for Nato given that its original raison d'etre has disappeared?' (see: The alliance must find a new vision).

As The Economist put it: 'Over the past decade, [NATO] has assumed some new roles: peacekeeping in the Balkans and Afghanistan, partnership with Russia, endless diplomatic dialogue. The old concern of defending its members' territory has faded into the background - leaving a question mark as to why the alliance need exist at all' (see: The future of NATO. A time to rebuild).

Promoting peace and stability in Afghanistan has become NATO's main priority, taking precedence over its involvement in Iraq, because the Alliance is fully committed to Afghanistan as leader of ISAF, the International Security Assistance Force. Some 6,500 troops are stationed in the country, but shortages of manpower and equipment mean they are mostly confined to Kabul.

With elections scheduled for September, Afghanistan's President, Hamid Karzai, called on NATO to deploy more troops to improve security for the elections. In response, the Istanbul Summit agreed to increase the strength of ISAF to 10,000 during the election period (but some 1,300 will, reported the Financial Times, be reserved for emergencies and located outside the country - see: Afghanistan asks NATO to speed troop deployment).

Some of the new personnel will be part of Provincial Reconstruction Teams in the north and west of Afghanistan. Intended to help with both security and reconstruction, the Teams were supposed to spread across the country, but limited resources mean they have so far failed to make an impact. The decision in Istanbul may, however, make a difference: NATO took command of Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Mazar-e-Sharif and Maimana on 1 July (see NATO: NATO flag raised in Mazar-e-Sharif and Maimana).

The lack of men and machines in Afghanistan is symptomatic of NATO's inability to respond quickly and effectively to a crisis. Part of the problem is that NATO tends not to share costs between member countries. Resources tend to be supplied on the basis that whoever provides them also funds them. There is thus a reluctance to get involved in operations which - as in the case of Afghanistan - are far away and hence expensive to support. 'Belgium, for example, promised months ago to send helicopters. Until recently, they remained in the hangars because the finance ministry was not prepared to foot the bill once they left the country' (see Financial Times: NATO must modernise and rethink its strategy. Is that mission impossible?).

Almost inevitably, therefore, the tendency is for the wealthier members of the Alliance - which are often those with the greatest military capability - to contribute disproportionately to NATO operations. In the words of the Financial Times, NATO's Secretary-General 'has had to take his begging bowl around Europe to get men and equipment' (see: NATO's incredibility).

At the end of June, it was reported that 'After battling for many months for helicopters, the force is now well equipped but needs aircraft ... Four countries have provisionally offered aircraft, but none has yet been delivered' (see Financial Times: US proposal for Iraqi army sparks disagreement).

Mr de Hoop Scheffer believes that this principle (referred to as 'costs lie where they fall') is unfair, arguing that it 'undermines the very logic of Nato as a coalition in which burdens are shared equitably and fairly' (see Financial Times: NATO must modernise and rethink its strategy. Is that mission impossible?). He would like to see 'common funding for equipment such as airlift and medical facilities'.

The situation is exacerbated by the way in which the Alliance plans its operations. It is only after a mission has been agreed at political level that member states are asked what resources they can contribute. A 'force generation conference' brings together military planners who, in theory, have access to what the Financial Times termed 'a huge inventory of helicopters, tanks, troops and aircraft' (see: Afghan troubles will test NATO's quest for new role). Unfortunately, resources are not normally available for specific missions. Mr de Hoop Scheffer has argued that 'There is a dis-connect between the force planning system and the way we generate our forces. When we enter into the political commitment, we have to know what forces we can generate to honour that commitment.'

The Istanbul Summit Communiqu�a> acknowledged these problems: 'In order to meet today's challenges, we need the right capabilities. In some cases nations could free up resources from no longer needed national force structures and/or capabilities and reinvest them in deployable capabilities. We need greater willingness and preparedness of nations to provide these forces and capabilities.'

The US invaded Afghanistan in response to the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. Following the attacks, NATO for the first time invoked Article 5 of its Treaty, calling on members to assist one of their number under attack. The US, however, ignored the offer of help and decided instead to effectively go it alone in Afghanistan. NATO's involvement in Afghanistan only came about later, when it took on a 'peacekeeping' role. The United States' willingness to act unilaterally and to put together 'coalitions of the willing' is seen by some as a threat to NATO as an organisation for collective defence, as it 'looks like becoming an increasingly European (and Canadian) alliance (see Financial Times: NATO must modernise and rethink its strategy. Is that mission impossible? and NATO's incredibility).

NATO is at least fully committed to Afghanistan. Iraq is an altogether different matter. Prior to the Summit, The Economist forecast that 'rancour over Iraq, darkening the summit like a cloud, may prevent it from agreeing anything useful' (see: The future of NATO. A time to rebuild). The US has (some would say 'belatedly') sought NATO's assistance in Iraq. The United States' apparent warming to NATO involvement in Iraq is seen by France and Germany, said the Financial Times, as 'tactical shifts to help Mr Bush win re-election rather than any fundamental reappraisal of his unilateralist instincts' (see: The Atlantic alliance needs to face up to its divisions; whoever wins the election, 'US and European leaders need to sit down after November to the fundamental strategic discussion they have studiously avoided since September 11 2001' said the FT - see: The Atlantic alliance needs to face up to its divisions).

Nevertheless, in what was seen as a compromise, the Istanbul Summit decided to 'offer assistance to the Government of Iraq with the training of its security forces'.

The BBC said the agreement 'fell well short of US hopes that Nato would assume a major military role in Iraq' (see: Karzai's plea to Nato on troops). Even that limited offer was, however, couched in such broad terms that, if accepted, it will see NATO members providing training to military or police personnel either inside or outside Iraq as each country sees fit. (A Statement on Iraq read: 'we have decided today to offer NATO's assistance to the government of Iraq with the training of its security forces. We therefore also encourage nations to contribute to the training of the Iraqi armed forces').

France and Germany reportedly wanted training to be undertaken outside Iraq, but other NATO countries argued that that would not be practical. However, 'Several European diplomats said they did not want Nato to become a 'subcontractor' for the US when sovereignty is handed over to an interim Iraqi government' revealed the Financial Times (see: US proposal for Iraqi army sparks disagreement). That handover actually took place on 28 June, the first day of the Istanbul Summit and two days earlier than expected.

The Summit also discussed and agreed other issues, details of which were given in a Communiqu�a>. They included:

  • an agreement to conclude the Alliance's successful SFOR operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • a call for Albania, Croatia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to continue to move towards NATO membership
  • a decision to offer cooperation to the broader Middle East region via the 'Istanbul Cooperation Initiative' to promote mutually beneficial bilateral relationships and improve security and stability
  • an agreement to pursue political dialogue within the NATO-Russia Council and to deepen consultations on key security issues

The Communiqu�a> also mentioned EU-NATO relations, saying they 'now cover a wide range of issues of common interest relating to security, defence and crisis management, including the fight against terrorism, the development of coherent and mutually reinforcing military capabilities, and civil emergency planning.'

Further information within European Sources Online

European Sources Online: Topic Guides

Defence in Europe

European Sources Online: In Focus

13.06.03: NATO slimmed down, as EU-US tensions continue, June 2003
19.03.03: EU and NATO sign an agreement on the security of information, March 2003
25.11.02: NATO: Leaders agree at Prague Summit to expansion and rapid response force, November 2002
10.06.02: NATO ministers agree on a new initiative to improve military capabilities, June 2002

European Sources Online: Financial Times

02.07.04: The Atlantic alliance needs to face up to its divisions
30.06.04: Afghanistan asks NATO to speed troop deployment
29.06.04: Chirac argues against NATO post-handover role
29.06.04: Increase in NATO troops for Afghan election
28.06.04: Blair says expected NATO deal will mark renewed ties with US
28.06.04: How NATO is adapting to a changing world
28.06.04: The alliance must find a new vision
26.06.04: NATO's incredibility
26.06.04: US proposal for Iraqi army sparks disagreement
25.06.04: NATO must modernise and rethink its strategy. Is that mission impossible?
27.05.04: Afghan troubles will test NATO's quest for new role

European Sources Online: The Economist

26.06.04: The future of NATO. A time to rebuild

Further information can be seen in these external links:(long-term access cannot be guaranteed)

EU Institutions

Council of the European Union

  17.6.04: Summary of remarks by Javier Solana, EU High Representative for the CFSP

Other sources


NATO Istanbul Summit, 28-29.VI.2004
Istanbul Summit Communiqu�a>
Statement on Iraq
The Istanbul Declaration: Our security in a new era
Opening statement by NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
NATO Review: Istanbul Summit Special
NATO after Istanbul
Press releases
  12.07.04: NATO and EU should expand cooperation, says De Hoop Scheffer
  14.07.04: First visit to NATO by Iraqi Foreign Minister
  07.07.04: De Hoop Scheffer invites Switzerland to expand ISAF role
  07.07.04: NATO flag raised in Mazar-e-Sharif and Maimana
  03.06.04: NATO assumes control of Kabul International Airport

BBC News Online

30.06.04: Nato summit sparks Turkish press debate
30.06.04: 'Nato too weak on terror' - Blair
29.06.04: Karzai's plea to Nato on troops
29.06.04: Bush sets out Mid-East vision

European Policy Centre

NATO's post-Istanbul Agenda

Eric Davies
Compiled: 19 July 2004

Background and reporting on the week's main stories in the European Union and the wider Europe.

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