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NATO Wales is likely to be a historic summit

With the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan nearly complete, at one stage it looked like the summit next week in Newport might not have been amongst the most important gatherings in the Alliance's history.

But a combination of concerns have sprung up which have led to the Prime Minister calling it a 'pivotal' summit. Meanwhile one expert said it's likely to 'go down in history' and a former Foreign Office minister told me that what's decided here in Wales could shape NATO's future.

Right at the top of the agenda will be dealing with instability in Ukraine and the increasingly tense relationship with Russia since it annexed Crimea. Ukraine's not a member of NATO but has developed good relations with the alliance.

Recent talks between Vladimir Putin and Ukraine's President Poroshenko don't seem to have eased the situation at all - but Ukraine’s president will be the only leader of a non-NATO country to be at Newport where he’ll have a separate summit meeting. It’s also likely that next week, the NATO leaders will decide to deploy troops in the Baltic states along the Russian border for the first time.

Former Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells says that move is almost a return to the Cold War that occupied NATO's attention for the first forty years of its existence.

There’s a kind of strange mood around where people are almost assuming there’s going to be a new Iron Curtain. One that’s going to be designed to contain Russia, to stop it moving into the Baltic states, to stop it having undue influence over wha tUkraine does. This could come to a very serious head. Because if Ukraine insists on joining Nato … Russia and Vladimir Putin are going to be very unhappy about this…

– Kim Howells, former Foreign Office minister

A big question is how to tackle home-grown Islamist militants such as those from Cardiff who appeared in a recruitment video for the jihadi group Islamic State.

In the Middle East itself, the murder of the American journalist James Foley is the latest sign of the growth of Islamic State. The US carried out air strikes on I-S targets in Iraq and is looking at doing the same in Syria, having carried out air surveillance.

Any such action would involve the US and a 'coalition of the willing' rather than NATO which has avoided involvement in Syria, although in 2012 it did send patriot missiles to the border between Syria and Turkey, in order to protect that member country against any potential threat.

The uncertainty is why David Cameron called the Newport summit a 'pivotal' one:

In 2014, the world is more unpredictable than ever. To the East, Russia has ripped up the rulebook with its illegal annexation of Crimea and aggressive destabilisation of Ukraine. To the South, an arc of instability spreads from North Africa and the Sahel, to Syria, Iraq and the wider Middle East. So we must use the Summit to agree how Nato should adapt to respond to and deter such threats; and to ensure the continued collective defence of all its members.

– Prime Minister David Cameron

That sense that 'NATO should adapt' is echoed by one academic at Cardiff University, who told me that the Newport summit should consider the question of what the purpose of the alliance is in the 21st Century. Dr. Christian Buerger says NATO has had significant successes dealing with maritime piracy and cyber terrorism, threats it should perhaps give more attention to in the future.

This summit comes at a crucial time and most likely it will go down in history. Because NATO right now is at a tipping point. The conflict or intervention in Afghanistan is more or less over. The new challenges are ahead and what priorities it should address

– Dr Christian Buerger, Reader in International Relations, Cardiff University

It was already clear that the Newport summit will be a big deal for Wales, whether or not you agree with it. It's also now clear that it will be a big deal for the alliance with potentially huge implications.

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