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Protests, Arson and Diplomatic Disappointments at the NATO Summit

April 9, 2009

Here’s my score card for last week’s NATO summit in Strasbourg, France, based on reporting from the BBC.

Hotels set on fire: 1

Protestors arrested: “at least 25”

New personnel for Afghanistan: “about 5000 troops and trainers”

Secretaries-General appointed: 1

I’m not sure that the arrests and the burning hotel have much importance for Canadians, except as a reminder that substantial numbers of Europeans are bitterly opposed to the mission in Afghanistan and perhaps to NATO’s very existence or even the entire international order (the messages tend to get a bit mixed). The anger may be misguided, but it’s very real, and the leaders of the Western world should not be allowed to forget its existence.

The 5000-odd European troops and trainers are being presented half-heartedly as a sign of NATO’s commitment to Afghanistan, but the real story is all too clear: US President Barack Obama wanted a solid deployment of European combat troops, and didn’t get it. Around 2,000 of the newly pledged personnel will be involved in training the Afghan army, while the other 3,000 or so will be providing security for this summer’s elections. This tepid commitment means that a handful of nations, including Canada, will continue to do the bulk of the fighting, which is naturally disappointing from a Canadian perspective. Who would have predicted even a century ago that France and Germany, for all their resources and martial traditions, would be unable to find even a few thousand combat troops to fight a foreign war in 2009? Napoleon and Frederick the Great must be spinning in their graves.

The appointment of Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen as NATO Secretary-General was also disappointing for Canada, in a way. For one thing, our own Peter MacKay, who occasionally appeared to have a serious chance at the job, ended up in the cold. For another, some fairly obsequious diplomacy was apparently necessary in order to overcome Turkish opposition to Rasmussen’s appointment, which stemmed partly from the infamous cartoons of Muhammed that were published in Denmark in 2005. Among other concessions, Rasmussen promised to apologise “to the Muslim world” for the cartoons. The actual apologising, so far, has been decidedly muted, which I think is to Rasmussen’s credit. Still, it’s unfortunate that a European leader had to yield even this much to Islamic bullying. Canada should not treat this display of forced “sensitivity” as a precedent worth following.


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One Comment leave one →
  1. April 11, 2009 6:42 am

    We were all told that Barack Obama’s presence as President of the United States would completely change perceptions in Europe. Yet when it came down to it, nothing of substance was given to him by European countries, was it?

    Have you ever taken the time to wonder why?

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