NEW: NATO chief: "Time is short" for a deal on international forces in Afghanistan
NEW: Ukrainian President: NATO countries have offered "strong, enormous support"
NEW: British leader says "we don't rule anything out" when it comes to going after ISIS
Cameron: Now "a crucial time (for) alliance" due to "many dangerous and evolving threats"
NATO has grappled with many perilous issues in its more than six decades of existence. But it’s had few times quite like this.
That was obvious Thursday, as leaders of the trans-Atlantic alliance’s member countries met in Wales. They discussed everything from Afghanistan to the Middle East to Ukraine, each of which has its own special significance and presents its own unique military and diplomatic challenges.
“We meet at a crucial time in the history of our alliance,” British Prime Minister David Cameron said at the outset of the two-day summit. “The world faces many dangerous and evolving threats, and it is absolutely clear that NATO is as vital to our future as it has been in our past.”
There was no indication given that NATO, as a group, will be deploying more ground troops anytime soon to any new conflict – as it has done before most recently following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Still, the alliance is looking at a range of options to combat a range of diverse threats.
Here’s a look at a few developments on those front, broken down by region:
Iraq and Syria
NATO has only invoked Article 5 – which mandates all countries come to the aid of another member of the alliance – one time, in response to the al Qaeda threat following 9/11.
Now, its member states are intensely focused on ISIS, a relatively new terrorist group that has rampaged through the Middle East, executing American journalists and threatening more Westerners’ lives.
No one is saying that NATO is about to repeat what it did over 12 years ago, including sending legions of ground troops into a country as it did Afghanistan. But its leaders are certainly talking tough about ISIS and the prospect of NATO playing a role in attacking it.
Any request by Iraq to NATO for aid in fighting ISIS would be “considered seriously,” according to NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who noted the Iraqi government hasn’t reached out yet to the alliance.
The United States, however, has coordinated with the Baghdad government to launch airstrikes on ISIS fighters in Iraq and opened the door for similar attacks in Syria. Cameron told CNN that his country supports these American strikes and could take part in further military action.
“We don’t rule anything out,” said Cameron, adding that he wants ISIS “squeezed out of existence.”
“We will act with partners in our national interest,” Cameron said.
Yet he, like U.S. officials, stressed that military might alone won’t end the threat posed by the Islamist militant group. Cameron said it’s imperative local and national authorities in the Middle East take control and offer their citizens a government they can rely on.
“We must recognize,” Cameron said, “that what’s required is helping those on the ground, rather than some Western intervention (that is) completely over their heads and (leaves) them to pick up the pieces.”
NATO countries’ work with the governments of Iraq and Syria have been mixed, at best. For Iraq, they criticized Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki until he was forced out of office, then worked closely with his successor to go after ISIS. For Syria, they’ve refused to cooperate at all with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – even if he and NATO share a common enemy in ISIS.
Ukraine, though, is a different story.
Western leaders have made a point of supporting the Kiev-based government as it combats a rebel movement that, its officials say, has been supported in most every which way by the Kremlin. And even as Moscow denies any direct involvement, Western officials have demanded the Russia withdraw thousands of troops they say have crossed the border and shelled Ukrainian forces, not to mention pull its troops back from the border.