Heads of state and government from the 28-member North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, are meeting in Lisbon, Portugal later this month. Two key issues are facing the alliance: its overall future and its mission in Afghanistan
NATO leaders are to focus their attention on a new "strategic concept," in other words a new mission statement for the alliance as it tries to redefine its role in a post Cold War era.
The last "strategic concept" was adopted 11 years ago and experts say it is time for the western alliance to approve a new document that sets out NATO's future responsibilities in a world that has changed dramatically in the past decade.
Robert Hunter, former U.S. ambassador to NATO in the Clinton administration from 1993-98, now a scholar at the Rand Corporation, says the "strategic concept" will lay out in general terms NATO's role in the years ahead.
"Number one, the central focus on the defense of the alliance itself, the so-called Article Five commitment: the three musketeers idea of one for all, all for one. Secondly, that territorial defense is no longer the key function but it's about threats and challenges that are going to arise in different places in different ways. For example terrorism, cross-border crime. There will be a reference to energy security even though NATO won't have a primary role on that. Cyber security is going to be very important," he said.
Hunter says the NATO document will also talk about building new partnerships with countries such as South Korea and Japan.
The "strategic concept" is based on a report drafted by a so-called group of experts earlier this year, led by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and presented to NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. He will unveil the new mission statement during the Lisbon summit.
Sean Kay, a NATO expert at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio fears the NATO document will be bland. "What always happens in these NATO documents, and I have been involved in the last time they've done this which was back in the 1990s, most NATO documents reflect the lowest common denominator in terms of language, in terms of what everyone can agree on. And now you've got nearly 30 countries involved in that process," he said.
Experts say NATO leaders will also discuss the alliance's operation in Afghanistan. It has more than 130,000 troops there under a United Nations-mandated contingent known as the "International Security Assistance Force," or ISAF.
Analysts say NATO's mission in Afghanistan is three-fold. The first is to assist the government of President Hamid Karzai in its efforts to rebuild and stabilize the country. The second is to train the Afghan army and police. And the third mission is to hunt down and eliminate insurgents in southern Afghanistan, home of the Taliban, ousted from power by a U.S.-led coalition in 2001.
Robert Hunter says NATO's Afghan operation is tied to the alliance's overall "strategic concept." "There is virtually a consensus in Europe that this is the last time that anything like Afghanistan should be done. I don't think there is any appetite here in the United States. What NATO has to grapple for is how does it define its future after Afghanistan in a way that gives it purpose without another Afghanistan. And in some ways, you can't even do a strategic concept that has meaning, that will have bite, that will have real decisions until we see what happens eventually in Afghanistan in the next year or so," he said.
Sean Kay agrees. "The fact that the United States had to surge 30,000 troops to Afghanistan is a pretty clear indicator that the NATO element of this has not met the expectation that it was supposed to. And so if NATO can't meet these sorts of basic operational expectations, it raises much bigger questions about its overall strategic concept," he said.
Experts believe at the summit it is unlikely that NATO countries will contribute more combat troops to the Afghan mission. But they say senior NATO officials will ask for more trainers to get the Afghan military ready to assume primary security responsibilities by 2014, the date set by the Afghan government.