NATO leaders concluded a two-day summit in Chicago on May 21, with the pending withdrawal from Afghanistan dominating the proceedings.  According to NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, two other items dominated the agenda: The alliance will continue to expand its capabilities in spite of economic austerity, and “we have engaged with our partners around the world to address the challenges we all face in the 21st century”:

we agreed to implement a renewed culture of cooperation, so that nations can achieve together what they cannot achieve alone . . . by agreeing on projects which will provide the capabilities we need, at a price we can afford.

Such an impressively vacuous waffle clearly indicates that the summit was not necessary.  None of the three key issues—leaving Afghanistan, expanded capabilities, projects and partnerships—concerns the core issues of strategy, let alone grand strategy.  They could have been discussed in the course of a day-long teleconference—preceded by a few thousand e-mails among a few dozen civil servants—at zero cost to U.S. taxpayers and zero inconvenience to the citizens of Chicago.  The protesters outside the conference hall—fewer and less aggressive than advertised—rightly attracted more media attention than the ideas exchanged within the hall.

All of the key decisions on Afghanistan are made by the Obama administration.  It cannot be otherwise.  That war has always been an American operation, with some peripheral support from a number of NATO countries.  The Summit Declaration merely rubber-stamped what we already know:

The irreversible transition of full security responsibility from the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) is on track for completion by the end of 2014.

In other words, the withdrawal will proceed even if the insurgency remains undiminished.  After that, the declaration says, “NATO will play its part alongside other actors in building sufficient and sustainable Afghan forces capable of providing security for their own country.”

But the future of Afghanistan belongs to the Taliban.  For 11 years, surviving was all the Taliban needed to do in order to win.  Once the American and other NATO troops leave, the ANSF will collapse, President Karzai will seek refuge in the Emirates, and Afghanistan will revert to her premodern ways.  It does not matter: The country is irrelevant to the security of NATO members, and it should never have become a theater of NATO operations.

A final blow to the moribund Afghan mission was struck by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.  At the last minute, the White House invited him to attend the summit, hoping he could be persuaded to reopen vital supply routes to NATO troops in Afghanistan.  Pakistan closed the main supply route after U.S. air strikes hit 24 Pakistani soldiers in a friendly-fire incident last November.  Islamabad’s demand for an unconditional apology was rejected by the Obama administration.  Zardari’s flat refusal to reopen the roads means that fuel and other supplies will continue to arrive along the Northern Supply Route.  When Obama addressed the summit on May 21, he publicly thanked Russia and her Central Asian neighbors “that continue to provide critical transit” into Afghanistan.

Therefore, it is remarkable that a major irritant in U.S.-Russian relations—the prospect of NATO membership for Georgia—was revived at the summit: “we have agreed to enhance Georgia’s connectivity with the Alliance, including by further strengthening our political dialogue, practical cooperation, and interoperability,” the declaration says, and “we appreciate Georgia’s substantial contribution . . . to Euro-Atlantic security.”

This is nonsense.  Georgia’s attack on South Ossetia in August 2008 was one of the most destabilizing events of the last decade in the Euro-Atlantic region.  Imagine the reaction in Washington if Russia were to offer a military alliance to Mexico, equipped and trained the Mexican army, and guaranteed the inviolability of the Rio Grande frontier.  Any further expansion of NATO along Russia’s flanks would confirm Moscow’s suspicion that, after the end of the Cold War, the raison d’être of the alliance remains enmity with Russia.

Russia’s security interests demand a friendly “near-abroad” along her extended frontiers.  Having a hostile Georgia on her southern flank—run by an arguably unstable Mikhael Saakashvili—is a problem.  Accepting Georgia into NATO would be seen in Russia as a security challenge of the highest order.  Moreover, it would be detrimental to U.S. interests because of the security guarantee contained in Article V of the NATO Charter—the cornerstone of the alliance—which theoretically obliges the United States to risk an all-out war in defense of Georgia’s sovereignty over Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

If the antimissile shield—which was curiously kept on the back burner at the summit—and further NATO expansion proceed regardless of Moscow’s misgivings, the Russians may retaliate by closing the Northern Supply Route, which would bring the Afghan operation to a swift end even before its scheduled termination.  (A cynic may say that, if the Russians are seriously mad at America, they should keep that route open as long as possible.)  A response of sorts came on May 23, when the Russians successfully launched a hitherto top-secret advanced intercontinental ballistic missile that is specifically designed to penetrate the “Interim NATO Ballistic Missile Defense Capability.”

The declaration goes on to claim that “the Alliance continues to be fully committed to the stability and security of the strategically important Balkans region,” and especially to the NATO-led KFOR, which “will continue to support the development of a peaceful, stable, and multi-ethnic Kosovo,” help maintain freedom of movement, and ensure a safe and secure environment for all people in Kosovo.

A day after the declaration was issued, two houses belonging to Serb returnees in Kosovo were burned down in the village of Drenovac—a routine event in Serbia’s occupied southern province.  Kosovo is effectively monoethnic, having been ethnically cleansed of non-Albanians everywhere except in the “northern triangle.”  Kosovo is the dark hole of Europe, run by ex-KLA gangsters, organ traffickers, pimps, and gun-runners.  Today’s Pristina is more reminiscent of Gaza or Ramallah—with Saudi-financed mosques, chaotically built concrete houses, and roadside rubbish heaps—than of any European city of comparable size.  The gap between NATO rhetoric and the realities created by NATO on the ground is breathtaking.

It takes equally breathtaking audacity to state, as the summit declaration does, that last year

our Alliance played a crucial role in protecting the civilian population in Libya and in helping save thousands of lives.  We commend the Libyan people for the progress achieved to date on their path towards building a new, free, democratic Libya that fully respects human rights and fundamental freedoms, and encourage them to build on that progress.

The slogan “protecting the civilian population” was cover for a five-month air war in support of an armed rebellion against a regime deemed fit for replacement.  Applying the precedent established in Serbia in 1999, NATO’s Libyan intervention was launched in pursuit of official goals that had little to do with the true agenda.  Both have produced results detrimental to American interests.

“A new, free, democratic Libya that fully respects human rights” is a sick joke.  Christian war cemeteries are desecrated, something unimaginable under Qaddafi.  The rival militias remain beyond control.  In early May there was a gun battle in Tripoli, close to the prime minister’s office.  The special U.N. envoy to Libya, Ian Martin, complains of private prisons run by militias that hold some 4,000 alleged Qaddafi supporters.  Islamic militants enjoy safe havens in the eastern part of the country, notably in the city of Derna on the Mediterranean coast.  On May 15, CNN reported that “hundreds of Islamist militants are present in and around the town, and there are camps where weapons and physical training” are provided to them.  An official described the area as “a disaster zone.”  Groups sympathetic to Al Qaeda as well as former members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group are now safe in Libya, including senior Al Qaeda operative Abdul Basit Azuz, who now has some 300 men under his command.

“NATO and the EU share common values and strategic interests,” the declaration says:

The EU is a unique and essential partner for NATO.  [We] should continue to work to enhance practical cooperation in operations, broaden political consultations, and cooperate more fully in capability development.

There is less than meets the eye here.  The European Union is in a state of chronic institutional and financial crisis.  It is not a political and military actor in its own right, and in any event the Europeans have been rightly loath to increase their defense spending for no clear strategic reason.  Similar platitudes have been a regular feature of NATO summit declarations for years.

Shortly before the summit President Obama declared that the NATO alliance “remains the key cornerstone of our engagement with the world and a catalyst of global cooperation.”  The events of the past two decades do not support his assertion.  NATO remains an American project: Some four fifths of its costs are covered by U.S. taxpayers.  The purpose of its existence has been lost.  Its three missions have been either criminal (Serbia 1999), or grotesquely futile (Afghanistan 2001-14), or both (Libya 2011).

Between 1949 and 1991 NATO was successful in providing security against the threat of a hostile totalitarian power.  Today, it is detrimental to the security of Europe and irrelevant to the security of its members.  It has morphed into a vehicle for the attainment of misguided American strategic objectives on a global scale.  As the forgettable summit in Chicago has reiterated, NATO is beyond redemption or reform.