Thursday, September 4, 2014

Small Dog or Puppy: The Joy of NATO Word-smithing

One of my favorite memories from my time in the Joint Staff was when we had to go through proposed NATO documents including those being negotiated for a major meeting--a Ministerial (Defense Minister's meeting or Foreign Minister's meeting) or a summit.

One dispute among allies was over "milestone" or "benchmark."  The context was what was necessary to declare progress in the Balkans as progress meant getting closer to leaving.  A milestone was time-based--we have been here so long, we can go.  A benchmark referred to conditions--we have improved the situation so it has reached this goal, so we can leave.  The Europeans tended to prefer benchmarks if I remember correctly, and the Americans preferred milestones.

Why am I having these flashbacks?  Because I am pretty close to certain that one of products of the NATO summit in Wales will be something about basing NATO troops in the members closest to Russia, especially Poland and the Baltics.  But NATO kind of made a commitment in 1997 not to base troops on the border with Russia.  Of course, that assumed that Russia would not be tossing away the Helsinki Accords that serves as the basic premise of European relations since 1975.

This basing will probably be called continuous.  What does that mean?  Does that mean present all the time until some distant future? Or does it mean that NATO will have a series of deployments so close together that they seem to be always there?  To me, it seems like a nice diplomatic fudge for ... permanent.  That is, we may see NATO--some members anyway--deploy troops to the region with no deadline/end-date.  For the foreseeable future.  Is that permanent or continuous?  My guess is that different politicians will use different words, depending on their comfort level with making a long term commitment.  Obama is far more likely to say permanent or hint that continuous is damn near permanent, and Merkel is likely to say continuous and hint that it could stop the moment Putin smiles in the general direction of Europe.

[Update] Obama said in Estonia yesterday:  "I believe our Alliance should extend these defensive measures for as long as necessary." Is this permanent or continuous? Um, "it would mean more U.S. forces -- including American boots on the ground -- continuously rotating through Estonia and Latvia and Lithuania."  Both, I guess.

The funny thing is that finding the pic above reminded me that I married a word-smith.

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