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Will Obama defy NATO's expectations?

Afghanistan, soul-searching will top NATO summit agenda.

In the public eye, the 26 leaders of member states (a number that will jump to 28 at the beginning of the summit with the formal admission of Albania and Croatia) are expected to launch the drafting of a new document outlining the way forward for an organization whose raison d’etre at its 1949 founding was to keep the Soviet Union at bay.

With the last such formulation of NATO’s core mission written in 1999 at 19 members, de Hoop Scheffer insists that the alliance embark immediately on revising its strategy so that it “can demonstrate its continuing relevance and vitality.”

The senior U.S. official, who would only speak on background, agreed such a rewrite is long overdue.

“This is to get NATO to focus on the real world,” said the official. He added that he finds the bloc “best prepared to deal with the least likely threats to its security — which is a conventional military attack launched by a state — and least well-prepared to deal with the most likely threats to our security, which are things that happen every day, like terrorist attacks, cyber attacks, energy disruptions … These are areas where NATO has a lot more work to do to figure out how protect our societies.”

NATO also has to convince the leaders of member states and the voters they represent that the increasingly high percentage of operations it undertakes outside of the North Atlantic region — the war in Afghanistan, for example — contribute to their own security and are worth a large investment. While the U.S. public generally accepts that argument, “the allies have a very different sense of urgency,” Jamie Shea, NATO’s director of policy planning, said recently.

Meanwhile, it looks like the announcement of the new secretary general is on hold. The nomination of Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen remains stuck with Turkey, where leaders say he is an unacceptable figure to be the organization’s main liaison with predominantly Muslim countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan.

NATO officials said Monday they cannot predict whether Turkey will drop its objections by the Friday night head-of-state dinner, where the consensus would have been formalized.

While these conversations take place behind closed doors, outside the summit there will be reminders that NATO is not viewed universally as the keeper of peace and values. Roel Stynen, a spokesman for the Belgian-based group Vredesactie or “Action for Peace” said thousands of activists from his organization and others will appear outside the summit locations to try to block the delegates and cause general traffic chaos.

Stynen acknowledged his group’s ultimate aim — for NATO to disband — is unlikely to occur. But he welcomed the bloc’s identity crisis, hoping it prevents further military interventions: “The more disagreement, the better!” 

Editor's note: This story was updated April 3 to reflect more recent news.

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