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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » April 8, 2009
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Polish Row Over NATO Summit
April 8, 2009   
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A decision by NATO leaders at an April 3 and 4 summit to chose Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen as the alliance's new secretary general sparked a row in Warsaw, as the government accused President Lech Kaczyński of failing to lobby hard enough at the meeting in favor of Poland's candidate for the post.

The summit in France and Germany, marking NATO's 60th anniversary, saw leaders adopt a Declaration of Alliance Security that announces work will begin on a new strategic concept adjusting NATO to new challenges such as terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and cyber-terrorism.

Rasmussen replaces Dutchman Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, whose term as secretary general expires soon. Poland's choice for the post, Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski, was not even officially put forward as a candidate, a fact that caused a clash between Prime Minister Donald Tusk's government and President Kaczyński. The government claims that the president was given instructions to support Sikorski for the post, but instead, at an early stage of the meeting, he voiced his support for Rasmussen in talks with the other heads of state and government at the summit.

For the first few hours of negotiations Turkey opposed the Danish prime minister as a choice for the NATO post, claiming he had failed to take firm action over caricatures of the prophet Muhammad published by Danish papers three years ago, and it wasn't certain if Rasmussen, who was supported by the United States, Germany, France and Britain, could be voted in unanimously. Polish government officials then accused the Polish president of giving up too easily on Poland's candidate and of unnecessarily caving in amid pressure from the larger NATO members.

"I sincerely congratulate Mr. Rasmussen," Sikorski said in Strasbourg. However, he said he thought Poland shouldn't have accepted Rasmussen as choice for NATO secretary general so quickly. "If we hadn't agreed so quickly yesterday, today there would have been consultations with two countries-Turkey and Poland-instead of just one," Sikorski said, adding that the instructions he had given the president on behalf of the prime minister were not about him personally, but about "expressing Poland's disapproval of the way in which the consultations on the candidates were held, or rather not held."

President Kaczyński said the day after the summit that he "had never laid eyes on" any government suggestions concerning the election of the new NATO secretary general. This was shortly after the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Government Information Center published a ministry memo that had been sent to the President's Office before the summit in France and Germany. Kaczyński protested that suggestions for the president shouldn't be sent two days before an international summit, adding that he had not been invited to meet with either Tusk or Sikorski for any consultations.

The row fueled tensions surrounding a simmering dispute over the powers of the president and prime minister in international affairs. Poland's Constitutional Tribunal is due to issue a ruling on the issue following a government request that it adjudicate who, according to the Constitution, is supposed to have the main say in Poland's foreign policy.

Apart from the Polish row, the NATO summit brought no real surprises. It adopted a new program document confirming that article 5 of the Washington Treaty, guaranteeing mutual defense and absolute security for the allies, is and will be the foundation of NATO. The Declaration of Alliance Security announces that work will begin on a new strategic concept adjusting NATO to new challenges such as terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. "We task the secretary general to convene and lead a broad-based group of qualified experts, who in close consultation with all Allies will lay the ground for the secretary general to develop a new Strategic Concept and submit proposals for its implementation for approval at our next summit," reads the declaration.

The document highlights the alliance's achievements so far. "NATO's enlargement has been an historic success," state the member countries' leaders, adding that "NATO's door will remain open to all European democracies which share the values of our alliance, which are willing and able to assume the responsibilities and obligations of membership, and whose inclusion can contribute to common security and stability." This echoes the declaration from the previous NATO summit in Bucharest in March 2008 which offered the prospect of membership to Georgia and Ukraine. The new declaration also states that the alliance's leaders "stand ready to work with Russia to address the common challenges we face."

In Strasbourg, the NATO member states also adopted a new strategy for operations in Afghanistan, including increased civilian assistance and sending 5,000 extra security forces for the presidential elections. There is no unanimity, however, as to the future of Afghan operations. Only the United States has announced a significant and long-term increase of its forces, planning to send 21,000 more soldiers to Afghanistan. U.S. President Barack Obama warned after the summit that after eight years of war in Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda was still a threat to all the NATO member countries.
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