Grading Obama's NATO Summit Performance

National security experts handed out a few high marks, and some low grades, after the Chicago summit.

Heads of Sate and Government pose following their meeting on Afghanistan in Chicago, Illinois, during the NATO 2012 Summit.

President Barack Obama and his foreign policy team secured several wins at the just-completed NATO summit in Chicago, including a green-lighted missile defense project and an alliance commitment to Afghanistan. But the president suffered some setbacks, too, like a failure to get specific euro commitments to help pay for Afghanistan's security forces.

U.S. News & World Report asked the Atlantic Council's Barry Pavel and the American Security Project's Joshua Foust to grade the Obama administration performance at the three-day global powwow on several key issues. (Each grade factors in the scores handed out by Pavel and Foust, with a dash of DOTMIL's own grading.)

Afghanistan. What the alliance members agreed to on Afghanistan was to sustain a NATO presence there through 2014, aligning the allies with President Obama's timetable for removing most U.S. troops. At several points in a joint statement, the members stated NATO will "complete its mission by 31 December 2014." But Obama administration officials failed to get some of Washington's closest allies to commit specific amounts of funds to help finance Afghanistan's military and police forces through 2024.

[Photo Gallery: NATO Summit in Chicago]

The allies agreed to a plan under which Afghan security forces will eventually shrink from a peak of 350,000 to around 230,000. "But there are no plans to pay for any of that in the long run," Foust says. "Even more importantly, in a country like Afghanistan, how on earth do you demobilize 120,000 soldiers when the economy is crashing because the aid budget dried up?"

New French President Francois Hollande plans to make good on a campaign promise by removing his nation's combat troops, though he suggested at the summit that support troops would likely stay. "That much is enough to call this a win for the Obama administration," says Pavel, who gives the administration a B-plus for the summit's Afghanistan outcomes. "The French announcement did not set of a wave of withdrawal announcements for the other NATO nations."

Both Pavel and Foust see flaws in the alliance's Afghanistan plans. "It's clear in the NATO communique that there will be a NATO mission," Pavel says. "What's not clear, however, is the strategy and the objectives. Is it only training and advising? Will there be quick-reaction forces to bail out Afghan forces when they get into trouble?" Foust, who attended the Chicago powwow and gives the Obama team a highly critical D on Afghanistan, says "not one of the officials ... wanted to engage with the political challenges facing Afghanistan--even though those political challenges are what will disrupt the transition strategy." Foust sees "a lot of magical thinking on Afghanistan in NATO." Administration's Grade: C

Missile Defense. NATO leaders agreed to activate a new missile defense shield in three years, a direct shot at Moscow, which publicly says the system is aimed at Russian targets.

The transatlantic leaders agreed Sunday to make the system operational by 2015 in order to "provide real protection for parts of NATO Europe against ballistic missile attack," Ivo Daalder, U.S. ambassador to NATO, told reporters in Chicago. Officials expect to make the system, tailored for Iranian launches, initially capable in 2015, before declaring it fully capable three years later.

"Missile defense seems to be the clearest area from the summit where progress is being made," says Pavel. "For the administration, this is a clear home run," adds Pavel, who handed the White House an A-plus.

Foust also gave the administration high marks for its pushing forward with the missile shield plans despite Russian objections. "There is broad consensus within NATO that they want missile defense, and that they aren't pointing their missile defense toward Russia," says Foust, who handed out an A-minus. Russia, however, still feels threatened by the concept, so whatever NATO's goals with this system, it needs to do a better job of de-escalating its relationship with Moscow for it to really be a successful program. Administration's Grade: A

[Gallery: New Wave of Violence Hits Afghanistan]

NATO Capabilities. Faced with a need to maintain its combat hardware amid declining U.S. and European military budgets, NATO members agreed to a plan under which nations will share resources and equipment. "Importantly, we agreed on how to pay for them, and that includes pooling our resources in these difficult economic times," Obama said Monday at the summit's closing press conference. Specifically, the alliance nations agreed to buy unmanned aircraft, intelligence-gathering systems, as well as conventional and nuclear missiles under a plan called "Smart Defense."

Foust has his doubts, saying the plan "is shot full of holes." At the summit, Foust says he asked [NATO Secretary General] Anders Fogh Rasmussen "a very simple question: If two countries are sharing equipment but they disagree on its use--like if France and the U.K. share an aircraft carrier, but only one wants to invade Iraq--then how does NATO mediate the disputed use policies?" The secretary general's response? "All Rasmussen said was 'that's a key question,' and that they were 'working on it.'"

What's more, "NATO seems determined to pretend like austerity means no change for their military activities," Foust says. "There needs to be a lot more work about how pooling and sharing won't diminish sovereignty, national interests, or security." His grade was a C.

Pavel, meantime, said the roughly 22 projects under the "Smart Defense" banner are "a good start." He wants to see a big expansion of the pooling program to as many as nearly 70. "More needs to be done," he says. Pavel acknowledges it was not clear from the Chicago talks just how the NATO nations intend to pay for the new systems, but he handed the administration an A-minus. Administration's Grade: B-minus

John T. Bennett covers national security and foreign policy for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact him at or follow him on Twitter.

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