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Special Report II
Last Updated: 04/07/2008
Back in the Balkans: the 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest
Raluca Batanoiu

Raluca Batanoiu reports on the NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania, where Eastern European states were urged to commit more troops to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush and Putin shook hands over the missile defence controversy, and Croatia and Albania were granted NATO membership while Georgia and Ukraine continue to wait. Ultimately, talk of security and troop deployments drowned out any mention of peace.

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: Afghanistan.

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 map.

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.

Another novelty 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.

The strategic 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 Afghanistan.

The Russian 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.

Meanwhile 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.

Now everything 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…

Raluca Batanoiu is a Master's degree candidate at the UN University for Peace.