Chicago from the Sidelines


Two weeks ago I participated in the Young Atlanticist Summit in Chicago which catered to the younger generation of international security and defence professionals. For three days we had access to what became the Holy Grail for anyone interested in NATO: McCormick Place conference center, which had been transformed into a security zone without equal. I wrote a brief commentary from Chicago, but it now seems appropriate to attempt a more sober perspective of some of the issues that were broached at the summit.

Capabilities and Smart Defence

NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, highlighted to us the importance of the Smart Defence initiative, saying that “you can’t be safe, if you’re broke.” The following day, the North Atlantic Council agreed on a comprehensive defence package of more than 20 projects through which to share the burden of security equipment. When asked how NATO would deal with potential disagreements on how to use shared capabilities, Rasmussen answered with a brief, “we’re working on that.” There was clear doubt in many of the questions posed by delegates about whether the Smart Defence concept is feasible, and whether the Alliance will ever be able to act without the shared participation and agreement of each member state.

The Summit also marked an agreement amongst NATO members on ‘NATO Forces 2020’ which highlights the need for interoperability in order to develop modern, tightly connected forces that are trained and equipped to operate together and with partners in any environment. According to a recent commentary published by the Atlantic Treaty Association, the agreement demonstrates “that the Alliance is constantly trying to adapt to international developments and security challenges and to apply lessons learned.”

On the issue of capabilities, many consider the most important Chicago Summit decision to have been the declaration of an interim ballistic missile defence capability. This is a decisive step in NATO’s establishment of a missile defence system for Europe and is supposed to secure Europe from attack by Iran or other hostile entities. However, many are worried that it will in fact destabilize Europe rather than secure it, as Russia is displeased with a concept it believes is aimed towards its borders. Ellen Tauscher, the U.S. State Department’s special envoy for strategic stability and missile defence, participated in a panel discussion at the Young Atlanticist Summit and highlighted the need for dialog: “We need to communicate to Russia that missile defence is not aimed at them.” Indeed, the absence of a NATO-Russia Council meeting reflected the lack of progress in the cooperation and was certainly one of the Summit’s main shortcomings.


When asked about the absence of enlargement at the Chicago Summit, Anders Fogh Rasmussen stated that “our door remains open. We will reaffirm our policy this summit.” This reaffirmation was certainly lived up to in the Chicago Summit declaration of which almost 50 percent was dedicated to partnerships with non-NATO members. Agreements were reached between NATO and partner countries on increasing the portfolio of shared projects to new areas of security such as energy and cyber security.

Not only was there a meeting scheduled with 13 partner nations at the summit, but a second meeting was organized between NATO Foreign Ministers and the Foreign Ministers of four aspirant countries: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Montenegro, and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, briefly attended the Young Atlanticist Summit and said about Georgia’s aspirations for NATO membership that, “what we are getting now [is]Georgia listed together with three Balkan countries and frankly everybody knows that they will join NATO.” U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, has been quoted as saying that, “this summit should be the last summit that is not an enlargement summit.”

I am currently participating in the annual 2BS (To Be Secure) Forum in Budva, Montenegro – a country seen as having good chances of becoming a NATO member in the next round of enlargement. No doubt, opinions will here be voiced on the issue of NATO partnerships.

 This article was originally published on June 5th 2012 on

About Author

Kristin Durant

Kristin Durant is contributor at the International Security Observer (ISO). Kristin was elected President of the Youth Atlantic Treaty Association (YATA) in November 2011. Prior to this, she has been Political Vice President of Denmark’s largest student union, Djøf Students, as well as Vice President of YATA Denmark. Kristin is currently based in Brussels working at the Secretariat of the Atlantic Treaty Association. She simultaneously works as P.A. for a Danish entrepreneur and political consultant, and is studying Public Administration and Global Studies at Roskilde University. Kristin has a background in International Business and Politics at Copenhagen Business School and Niels Brock Business College.

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