CHICAGO — As measured from President Obama’s re-election campaign perspective – the White House’s litmus test for foreign policy issues through November – last weekend’s G-8 and NATO Summits were bell ringers. Obama campaign strategists couldn’t have scripted their outcomes better – perhaps because they did script them.
Given the potential for dissent, President Obama could be satisfied that his guests adhered (mostly) to the desired story line. At Camp David, President Obama was the jobs-and-growth champion. In hometown Chicago, with leaders of some 60 countries arrayed around him, he was the president who would wind down an unpopular war. (That his Chicago White Sox trounced the Cubs during NATO Night at Wrigley Field, in a game that opened with an honor guard carrying flags from the 50 countries engaged in Afghanistan, was an added benefit.)
The only problem with this pretty picture is that getting the campaign message right is a long way from getting the world right. What really connected the G-8 and NATO meetings was a growing realization that the biggest threat to the alliance – and, for that matter, to Obama’s re-election hopes – is the euro zone crisis. That risk comes at a time when U.S. debt and political dysfunction makes the West far less resilient. So for all the talk in Chicago about common purpose in Afghanistan, NATO’s most existential danger now comes from within, and its root causes are economic.
When NATO strategists weigh the many threats facing them, they tend to focus first on their founding treaty’s Article 5, which requires all members to defend a single ally against an external security threat. Insiders also often discuss Article 4, which allows for a member country like Turkey to seek urgent alliance consultations when it foresees new dangers, as was the case during the Iraq war and is now again the case concerning Syria.
Yet it’s time for NATO to dust off its long-forgotten Article 2, known at the treaty’s writing in 1949 as “the Canadian article,” because of that ally’s early insistence that military strength couldn’t be separated from economic health. It committed all NATO members to “strengthening their free institutions” and “promoting conditions of stability and well-being. They will seek to eliminate conflict in their international economic policies and will encourage economic collaboration between any and all of them.”