Nato summit gives ‘few tangible results’

by Zhu Zhu, Yang Jian and Wang Fengfeng in Chicago

NATO leaders reached consensus at a summit here on closely-watched issues such as missile shield capabilities and military operations in Afghanistan.

But these are just meagre results, with few alliance members willing to come forward with pledges of financial support in this regard, as they are hard-pressed by austerity measures at home, observers said.

The fate of the war in Afghanistan was the central topic of the summit. Nato allies declared a shift from a combat mission to one focused on training, advising and assistance, after the transition of security responsibility is completed at the end of 2014.

According to Nato plans, the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) will reach a strength of 352,000 by the end of 2013 and remain at that size for two full years.

While Nato has tried to pace allies’ steps in troop withdrawal, financial austerity and domestic criticism have prompted some of them to leave earlier.

Australia said it would accelerate the troop drawdown and complete the mission by the end of 2013, a year ahead of Nato’s schedule.

France also proved to be problematic, as its new President Francois Hollande insisted on sticking to his campaign pledge to remove his country’s forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2012.

In anticipation of improved security in Afghanistan, the ANSF of 228,500 will have an estimated annual budget of 4.1 billion US dollars, according to Nato.

Nato said the Afghan government has pledged to provide at least 500 million dollars a year for the ANSF beginning in 2015, while NATO and other donors will provide significant additional funding.

However, the member countries failed to attach a dollar figure for funding, which will significantly undermine the alliance’s credentials.

Some analysts predict that Washington could pick up about a quarter to half of the price tag, but the rest of the burden would have to fall on the allies. However, allies may not be able to follow the US lead.

Debt-ridden European countries are facing huge pressure to cut back on spending. Defence, as well as support for Afghanistan, is a tempting target, which could at the same time boost politicians’ standing at home, given popular sentiment against the war.

In fact the chronic Afghan war has gnawed away at the enthusiasm of the Nato members and their allies. Some Nato members such as Germany chose to stay out of the Libyan conflict last year.