At the NATO heads-of-state summit held in Lisbon this weekend, the leaders of NATO member states resolved some important issues regarding the alliance's future, but they deferred many key decisions for further deliberation. As a result, much of the summit's outcome will not be definitively clear for some time.
The topic that drew the most media attention this past weekend was how long NATO would continue its military effort in Afghanistan, and whether the alliance could actually win the war within whatever withdrawal timeline its members articulated. NATO leaders confirmed 2014 as the new target date for drawing down their contingents. But they tried to underscore both their long-term commitment to restoring security in Afghanistan and their ability to transition within a few years to an Afghan-led security mission by deploying additional military and police trainers. The key question remains what will happen if, by the end of the newly confirmed 2014 deadline, the Afghan forces prove unable to stand against the Taliban alone. Will NATO coalition forces fight on beyond that point, or will they adopt one of the many Plan B exit strategies now circulating in allied capitals? The summit shed little light on the answer.
One issue that was resolved at Lisbon was that NATO will in principle integrate its European missile defense programs with those of the United States, with the goal of providing comprehensive protection for NATO members' populations, territory, and forces. The allies agreed to extend NATO's Active Layered Theater Ballistic Missile Defense (ALTBMD) system to give it the capability to support territorial missile defense in conjunction with U.S. national systems deployed near Europe. But they deferred resolving many of the sticky command-and-control issues regarding how to operate these new missile defense capabilities until the scheduled March 2011 Defense Ministers meeting. And they gave their defense ministers until next June to develop a concrete action plan -- which would specify where to base the system, among other things -- for achieving the sought-after missile defense capability