By Paul Reynolds
World Affairs correspondent, BBC News website
Nato in Afghanistan: role model?
The Nato summit in the Latvian capital Riga this week will be dominated by the war Nato is waging against the Taleban in Afghanistan and by the concept that Nato should increasingly take on a global role.
Both are part of the same vision - that Nato should develop from its traditional role as an alliance primarily interested in European and North Atlantic defence into a global player capable of acting and intervening anywhere. In the jargon this has become known as "transformation".
The fact that the summit is being held in one of the Baltic states next to Russia shows how far Nato has spread as an alliance. Now some member states want its influence to spread further.
A sign that this is being put into practice came recently when 13 Nato countries agreed to fund the purchase of three or four giant C-17 transport aircraft, to give the alliance a common capability in strategic airlift. The planes will be based in Germany. President Bush will call on the Riga summit to do more.
However, the operation in Afghanistan has already shown the limits of the transformation vision in that not all members have signed up to the sharp end, the actual business of fighting. Nor have they provided all the troops and equipment, especially helicopters, the forces in Afghanistan need.
And one key idea being pressed by the United States and some others -- for a closer relationship with Japan, Australia and South Korea in the Pacific and Sweden and Finland in Europe - has run into trouble from the French in particular.
Afghanistan the key issue
Afghanistan will be the most pressing issue in Riga because it is a war in progress and the problems it has thrown up need addressing.
"For us the number one issue is Afghanistan," said Nicholas Burns, the US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs.
And probably the number one issue for Nato in Afghanistan is the limits some countries - Germany, Italy, Spain and France notably - have placed on their troops. These are called "caveats".
The German Chancellor Angela Merkel said last week that German troops would not redeploy from the relatively peaceful North to the actively dangerous South.
"What that essentially means is that if the commander decides to redeploy troops to meet an emergency, he cannot do so quickly; he must go through capitals and that slows us down and that doesn't allow us to accomplish the mission we need to accomplish," said Nicholas Burns.
The Nato Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has expressed confidence that help would given by one ally to another, but only in an emergency he suggested.
"In case of emergency, every single ally will come to the assistance and help of every other ally," was as far as Mr de Hoop Scheffer was able to go.
This is not quite what the Americans, the British, the Canadians and the Dutch, who are doing the fighting, really want.
"It's important to remove caveats. It's important that all of our forces be ready to help each other where needed," urged Daniel Fried, the US Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs.
The row over caveats is overshadowing the wider theme of transformation, one important aspect of which is a closer relationship with countries way beyond Nato's borders.
Nicholas Burns explained the proposal. "We seek a partnership with them so that we can train more intensively from a military point of view and grow closer to them because we are deployed with them. Australia, South Korea and Japan are in Afghanistan. They have all been in Iraq, as you know. They have all been in the Balkans. And so we want to grow closer to them."
Just how far this plan will get in practice is not clear. It has already provoked the French into warning that Nato must not spread its wings too far.
France has always been ambivalent about Nato's role and the influence within Nato of the United States and is worried that the plan will become an instrument of US foreign policy.
The French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie wrote in Le Figaro: "The development of a global partnership could...dilute the natural solidarity between Europeans and North Americans in a fuzzy entity."
It would "send a bad political message, that of a campaign launched by the West against those who don't share their ideas. What a pretext we would offer to those who promote the idea of a clash of civilisations."
The Americans insist they are not seeking to turn Nato into a global alliance. Membership would not be offered to the prospective new partners.
But the word "global" crops up frequently in any American briefing on the issue and this indicates that the plan is far reaching.
In his briefing Mr Burns spoke of a "global agenda", and "global" partners and partnerships.
In a meeting with European correspondents, Mr Fried said there was a big difference between a "global alliance" and a "transatlantic alliance" but also referred to Nato's "global mission" and to Nato being "the principal military arm and security arm of the transatlantic alliance of democracies facing global challenges."
He called Nato "an alliance which does not have geographic limits on its operations. It is potentially worldwide in its missions." He noted that rarely these days does the Bush administration speak of a "coalition of the willing".
Instead, he says, nowadays, "It's all 'Nato'."
A document to be approved by the summit says that over the next 10 to 15 years, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction are "likely to be the principal threats to the alliance". Other challenges will be instability and threats from failed states, more sophisticated conventional weapons, and the disruption of the flow of natural resources.
Terrorism - in this case the threat of al-Qaeda regrouping in Afghanistan - is the main justification used by Nato leaders for sending troops there.
And it is not hard to see this argument being used about other places in the future, if transformation takes hold.