Mission accomplished for Nato in Lisbon?

By Jonathan Marcus
BBC diplomatic correspondent

image captionNato leaders got pretty much what they were looking for from the Lisbon summit

As summits go, this gathering in Lisbon looks to have achieved some notable successes.

There was the agreement on an updated Strategic Concept, or mission statement, for the alliance.

This will cut costs; close unwanted headquarters and agencies; and ensure that at a time of declining defence budgets, money is directed towards new emerging threats like defending against cyber attacks.

Nato allies also agreed to deploy a missile defence system to cover all of the territory of its European members.

This will complement existing US plans - indeed the US system will also be put at Nato's disposal. Much work, though, will be needed to develop the new system's architecture and to establish the network of sensors, communications, and command and control capabilities to turn the various national elements into a single coherent defence system.

Ticked boxes

On Afghanistan there were two important announcements. First an agreement on the start of a transition process towards Afghan control of security matters to begin in July of next year and end with full Afghan control by the end of 2014. The alliance also signed a document reinforcing its long-term commitment to Afghanistan's security even after Nato combat operations end.

So two messages there: one to Nato publics assuring them that an end to this generally unpopular military deployment is in sight. But another to the Taliban in Afghanistan that there will be no "waiting out" Nato's deployment - its commitment to Afghanistan extends far into the future.

Cap that with what Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen asserts is a fresh start in Nato-Russia relations and you've ticked all the boxes.

This is pretty much what Nato leaders came to Lisbon hoping for and this is what they got.

But how will these declarations fare when stress-tested against reality?

Is that 2014 goal for the handover of security responsibility in Afghanistan really attainable?

Nato spokesmen tell you that this will depend upon conditions on the ground. So what if conditions are not right and Nato allies are lining up to withdraw their troop contingents? What then?

It is noticeable for example that the Americans seem unwilling to declare 2014 the proposed end of combat operations. Indeed most military experts believe that Nato capabilities - even if just special forces and air power - will be needed for some time to come.

On Russia too there must be some uncertainty. Dealing with President Dmitry Medvedev - Nato's guest here - is one thing, but there are many in the Russian military, its parliament and even in government, who remain more sceptical about Nato's intentions.

Indeed some Russian analysts have seen Mr Medvedev's seemingly softer stance towards Nato as a clear sign that he wants to put some distance between himself and the current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The two men could be rivals for the Russian presidency in 2012.

Mr Medvedev may be carving out a position as the man best able to do business with the West, hence his declaration that the "period of cooling relations" between Russia and Nato " is over".

Nato seems to have got most of what it wanted from Moscow: expanded transit routes into Afghanistan; stepped up Russian counter-narcotics training for Afghan security forces; and collaboration on countering terrorism and piracy.

Russia's agreement to explore - but not yet join - in deliberations with Nato on missile defence is also a positive sign for the alliance; another sign perhaps that Mr Medvedev wishes to be his own man.

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