Economy & Trade, Europe, Financial Crisis, Global Geopolitics, Global Governance, Headlines, North America

Lisbon Armed to the Teeth for NATO Summit

Mario de Queiroz

LISBON, Nov 19 2010 (IPS) - Helicopter gunships patrolling the skies, missile launcher ships in the Tagus estuary, police with heavy machineguns and armoured cars deployed on the main streets of the Portuguese capital have created a warlike ambience in the city hosting the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) Summit.

Heads of state and government of the 28 NATO member countries have been cloistered in the Parque das Nações, a part of Lisbon that has been turned into a top-security area similar to Baghdad’s “green zone”.

The security measures are unprecedented in Portugal. Lisbon is being subjected to tough restrictions on movement and operations, especially affecting retail trade and tourism.

Airspace closure, perimeters guarded by thousands of soldiers and uniformed and plain-clothes police, security cameras on the streets, roadblocks and a ban on private navigation off the Lisbon coast are some of the measures in place.

The Schengen Agreement on free movement without border controls was suspended from the early hours of Tuesday to midnight this Saturday, in order to guarantee domestic security and public order.

The border agreement covers European Union countries with the exception of a few members like the United Kingdom and Ireland. The non-EU countries of Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein are also included in the pact.

Among the most heavily-guarded people at the summit are U.S. President Barack Obama and President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia, a member country of NATO’s Partnership for Peace programme that aims to forge closer links with other European states and former territories of the dissolved Soviet Union.

This Friday and Saturday, as is customary since the foundation of NATO, the 28 leaders are debating a working agenda drawn up by the United States, which is proposing the adoption of a new strategic concept to deal with threats in a multifaceted world, with special attention paid to security.

The strategic mission of the military alliance, which was originally defence in the context of the Cold War, will be reformulated in Lisbon because of significant changes in the global chessboard over the last two decades.

In 1999, NATO’s strategic concept was shaped by the 1992-1995 Bosnian War, and today it is marked by the war in Afghanistan. At the Lisbon summit, the idea is to make progress towards stabilisation and then transition in Afghanistan, which was invaded in 2001 by a military coalition led by the United States.

NATO was founded in Washington in April 1949 to confront “the Russian threat,” but in 1991 it was left without an enemy when the Soviet Union was dissolved and the East European socialist bloc disintegrated.

Since then NATO has had to struggle for survival, and its lifebelt has been what the United States and Europe call “threats to global security.”

By inviting Medvedev, NATO is signalling that its Cold War thinking is a thing of the past, and it now regards Russia as a cooperative partner, rather than an adversary. The gesture is intended to improve relations, which have been all but frozen since the 2008 war in Georgia.

On his departure from Lisbon, Medvedev will carry in his briefcase a proposal to interconnect the Russian anti-missile defence system with that of NATO.

The final declaration to come out of the Lisbon summit “is a document that has already been agreed, reflecting in a balanced way the consensus among the allies,” said Teresa de Sousa, an analyst with the Lisbon newspaper Público, quoting a Portuguese diplomatic source.

The text includes considerations about the tasks and scenarios in which the organisation is involved, especially the threat of terrorism, nuclear proliferation, the war in Afghanistan, maritime piracy, and the plan to create an anti-missile shield to protect all of Europe, including Russia, financed by NATO member countries.

There were few details left to work out Friday. The plan, rather, was to adapt NATO’s mission statement to the set of new threats, whose common denominator is that they are unpredictable, and can flare up at any point on the planet.

Some voices have raised the question of what the role of NATO should be in international politics today. Should it limit itself to its original sphere of action, the North Atlantic, as its name suggests, or should it act globally?

“I do not understand how an organisation created with defensive goals in a bipolar world could have become the offensive instrument of a single super-power,” retired colonel Vasco Lourenço, one of the chief leaders of the 1974 “Carnation Revolution” that overthrew the Portuguese dictatorship in power since 1926, told IPS.

Lourenço, a former military governor of Lisbon, criticised “the move to convert NATO into something else, no one knows what, but something that will clearly only serve the interests of its main member, the United States.”

However, “keeping the same name will only create confusion,” he complained.

A number of demonstrations have been held in Lisbon this week by peace activists from all over Europe, who accuse NATO of having become “planetary police” and an offensive, not a defensive, force.

NATO’s self-assigned role has impinged on the attributions and competencies that were formerly the exclusive preserve of the United Nations, usurping the U.N.’s authority for solving conflicts, some critics say. Among them is former Portuguese president Mario Soares (1985-1995).

Another debate is about financial contributions to the organisation’s budget. The United States and Canada want Europe to increase its commitments, in spite of the economic difficulties the continent is experiencing, with large fiscal deficits, high foreign debt and high unemployment.

The economic crisis has led to mass movements opposed to excessive military spending in several European countries.

In addition to its new strategic concepts, emphasising military responses to threats against world security, NATO must also come up with a second strategy, to respond to criticism from civil society that views military spending as a threat to social security.

Republish | | Print |

Related Tags