The regular six-monthly meeting of the NATO Foreign Ministers concluded on Wednesday (2 December) in Brussels. Apart from the crises in the south-eastern neighbourhood, the main items on the agenda were the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan and relations with Russia. Foreign Minister Steinmeier called for the revival of the NATO-Russia Council and welcomed the idea of Montenegro’s accession to the Alliance.
No active role in the southern arc of crisis
The Foreign Ministers of the NATO member states gather twice a year for consultations. The most recent meeting was held at NATO headquarters in Brussels on 1 and 2 December.
One of the issues under discussion were the numerous conflicts in NATO’s south-eastern neighbourhood. At the beginning of the meeting in Brussels Foreign Minister Steinmeier said:
Of course we will talk about the southern arc of crisis from Libya to the Middle East and beyond. I do not see how the threats emanating from the region will result in an active role for NATO. But we do need joint analysis, we need to exchange views and information, and we need to give the matters our joint attention.
Reviving the NATO-Russia Council
The situation in Ukraine and NATO’s relations with Russia were also on the agenda. Steinmeier explained that relations with Russia were currently ambivalent. On the one hand, it is proving difficult to find a political settlement to the Ukraine crisis. But on the other hand, Russia is engaging in constructive discussion on the Syria conflict in Vienna. Steinmeier reported that both aspects had been debated at the NATO meeting:
Last night I strongly advocated trying to minimise risks and to maintain a dialogue with Russia. I stated that we could not leave the NATO-Russia Council unused in the long term. In the present situation this can only mean trying to revive this instrument again. I expressly did not specify on what level this should be done.
The NATO Foreign Ministers therefore charged Secretary General Stoltenberg with the task of making preparations for a meeting to this end at ambassador level.
Foreign Minister Steinmeier also spoke to the Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin in this context. He was in Brussels to attend a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission. Steinmeier further held a number of bilateral talks with interlocutors including US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.
Resolute Support to be continued in Afghanistan
The way forward in Afghanistan was also on the agenda. Foreign Minister Rabbani of Afghanistan had travelled to Brussels to participate in the deliberations on extending NATO’s Resolute Support Mission. Foreign Minister Steinmeier called for the continuation of the Mission with German involvement:
Germany will sustain its participation, not least to ensure that we do not experience yet more setbacks in the security situation in Afghanistan. We are also willing to increase the number of soldiers deployed once again.
Invitation to Montenegro
NATO issued its first invitation since 2008 to an accession candidate. The Foreign Ministers officially invited Montenegro to become a member of the Alliance. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier welcomed the decision: “We have witnessed transitional difficulties, but the country has launched the necessary reform processes. It is therefore a good signal for the Western Balkans, and elsewhere too, that NATO’s open door policy is still alive and well.”