Back in the Balkans: the 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest
Author: Raluca Batanoiu
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on: 04/07/2008
A few years ago,
NATO troops came to the Balkans for what they were calling “a just
war”. Now, one of the countries that emerged out of that so-called just
war has become part of the alliance, and troops are sought for the new focus:
A bit farther
east, NATO leaders join the 2008 summit in Romania to discuss another war,
which, from the American perspective, is again just. Only that not all the
states share this view, especially Western Germany. However, with Eastern
European support, the NATO summit in Bucharest concluded with the leaders
offering about 2,000 more troops for fighting.
New things were
brought onto the NATO’s agenda. It starts with the capital of Romania, a NATO
member since 2004, a new EU country, and now the host for the 2008 summit.
Bucharest underwent preparations after preparations: streets, buildings, new
traffic regulations, even days off for those who were working in the downtown
area to prevent too much disarray in the city, and to ease the traffic. Hopeful
and proud, Romanians could see how the international media turned their
attention to Bucharest, a Balkan capital that many have trouble finding on the
The Summit this
time dealt more closely with the divergent opinions between Western Europe and
the US. On the one hand Washington was lobbying for other nations to provide
more troops for the 47,000 strong NATO force, as well as to add forces in the
southern and eastern areas of Afghanistan. On the other, the German chancellor
and the French president were asking for a shift of focus of NATO. Hopeful or
optimistic, maybe this will come with a change in the White House; it is to be
seen this year with the upcoming American elections.
within the summit was a glimmer of hope, when NATO discussed the possibility of
an orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan, were it has been for the last seven
years. The discussion, however, remained hypothetical and thereafter, just a
hope, not even a prediction. Or, let’s see what it takes to turn into reality.
Maybe just one victory, but then… on whose side? What is certain right now is
that NATO will send more troops to Afghanistan in the name of strengthening
security and putting the situation under tight control.
missile defense was not a new topic on the NATO agenda. What was new this time
was that Bush and Putin shook hands, US securing Kremlin the right to have a
say in this matter. Russia and NATO cooperate now on a practical level, such as
the missile defense on the battle field or the transport of supplies to
eyebrows were furrowed when NATO decided for to grant membership to Albania and
Croatia, while Georgia and Ukraine were sent to the waiting room.
Suspiciousness and mistrust came from Putin who said he does not believe in the
democratization of the NATO state members. As an example he mentioned the
Baltic countries where so many of the problems have not been solved and where
NATO hasn’t changed much of the country’s situation. “I will not sacrifice
Russia’s sovereignty to create the illusion of a stronger security. But we will
cooperate with NATO!”, Putin said to BBC. Along the same line he also stressed
on the high need of Russia’s support in the fight against terrorism.
As for the host
country, Romania, together with Italy and Greece, said they would add training
teams for the Afghan army. These are seen as key to NATO’s strategic target of
building up an effective Afghan force of 80,000 by 2010. The alliance currently
has around 30 such teams.
On a different
matter, the Romanian president, Basescu, asked Bush about the visa problems of
Romanians who want to visit the US. Even though Romania has 600 soldiers in
Afghanistan, more than any other Western European country, the requirements are
much tougher. Bush promised a future talk with the Washington Congress about
the issue, but nothing concrete.
Romanians still have to prepare all the necessary documents, line up for hours
at the American Embassy and wait for the long inquisitive interviews and, very
likely, be rejected on no real grounds to go and visit the US. The only reason
is the suspicion that they might turn into illegal immigrants.
The NATO leaders
have left the Balkans again, and the international media have already shifted
their focus from Eastern Europe, in the same way that the Romanian media paid almost
no attention to the anti-NATO demonstrations before the summit, or to the
opinions of all those who see Romania’s high contribution to the wars in Iraq
and Afghanistan as a national humiliation, full of unjustifiable sacrifices.
seems to be back to normal: Bucharest has returned to its chaotic rhythm,
traffic jams and disorganization; troops in Afghanistan continue fighting, with
soldiers killing each other, while the Bush administration strives to get more,
more victims, and more soldiers. Unfortunately this normality does not include
any word of peace. The NATO summit has not tackled peace in any way, probably
because there was not room left on the agenda, which was full of more urgent issues like
war, missiles, and troops. And paradoxically, everything was mentioned in the name
of national and then human security. And again: peace was not mentioned at all…
Bio: Raluca Batanoiu is a Master’s degree candidate at the UN University for Peace.