With a formidable to-do list for the world’s leaders, the 2014 NATO Summit takes place in Wales on Sept. 4-5.
This will be the largest ever gathering of international leaders in Britain. In preparation, some diplomats have even been learning Welsh.
Having been to a few, I’ve sometimes been sceptical about the value of summits in the 21st century.
But this one is different. People speak too often of wake up calls. But we can’t afford to sleepwalk through events in the Middle East and Ukraine. The world beyond our borders is becoming more uncertain and threatening. History is not gliding gently towards a liberal utopia. Technological advance is not cost-free. The arc of the moral universe may bend towards justice, but it will not get there if we sit on our hands.
That’s why the NATO summit will focus on the quantity and quality of our defence spending. We need to be ready for a less stable world of failed states, regional conflicts and terrorism. NATO must show that it can back up those who share our commitment to freedom, democracy and diversity.
Many conversations in Wales will be about the growing threat from the self proclaimed “Islamic State.” These bandits are neither Islamic, nor a state. But they have got the world’s attention through extremist shock tactics and savvy use of digital media. They have also shown, like Ebola with guns, that their poisonous message can spread fast. Last week, I met the main Christian leaders from Lebanon, Iraq and Syria and heard chilling accounts of persecution and intimidation.
The NATO Summit theme captures the current sense of global uncertainty – “Building Stability in an Unpredictable World.”
That could be Lebanon’s motto. Lebanon is the most diverse country within reach of (and currently under attack from ISIS. So I hope that the international community will prioritize urgent delivery of support to the Lebanese Army. For our part, we are expanding our support to the Army in the areas most at risk. Many of the soldiers facing extremists are trained by the U.K., stay in touch on U.K.-provided radios, wear U.K.-provided body armor and move around in U.K.-provided Land Rovers.
This is not a humanitarian summit, but I hope too that NATO leaders will also remind each other of their obligations to the most vulnerable victims of conflict. In responding to the challenges of this region, military solutions alone will fail, badly. Lebanon now has almost twice as many Syrian refugees as any other country, and the crisis is felt in every town and village. U.N. and World Bank programmes need urgent funding.
I hope too that in their discussions of the Middle East, NATO’s leaders will agree to press regional partners on the need for a more mature and pragmatic discussion with each other. ISIS should focus the minds of regional giants on common threats, and the dangers of disunity, sectarianism and polarisation. Showing a collective commitment to Lebanon’s stability is a test for whether they will prove able to find pragmatic solutions to even tougher regional challenges.
Diplomacy at its most basic form is about protecting coexistence. That takes courage.
That coexistence is under threat from an un-Islamic nonstate. The NATO summit is an opportunity to prove that we have as much resolve in defending our values as they do in imposing theirs. As the Welsh put it: Adfyd a ddwg wybodaeth, a gwybodaeth ddoethineb.
Adversity is the mother of wisdom. It must also be the mother of action.
Tom Fletcher, Britain’s ambassador to Lebanon, wrote this op-ed ahead of the NATO Summit the U.K. is hosting on Sept. 4-5, 2014.
You can track the summit on #NATOSummitUK and @NATOWales, learn more about Wales or more about the British people’s support to Lebanon’s stability.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 03, 2014, on page 3.