NATO For The Foreign Policy Novice

NATO For The Foreign Policy Novice

(Photo: Flickr/isafmedia)

It is going to screw up your commute, interfere with weekend plans in the Loop and be covered 24-hours a day by the media.

It will also potentially determine the future course of foreign policy for 28 countries.

NATO is landing in Chicago this weekend, officially running from Sunday, May 20- Monday, May 21, and it won't be arriving inconspicuously; figuratively and literally. Aside from the huge influx of foreign officials and high profile discussions, streets have been closed and protesters have been congregating downtown since the beginning of the week.

But let's be honest: for the majority of us, NATO is a buzzword heard all the time in the news, but you never really understand what exactly it means (though you know it is important).

ChiU is here to help. Here is a basic rundown of what's going on, who is involved and why there are protesters, plus what college campuses are in session despite heightened security:

What is NATO?

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was formed in 1949 as a political-military alliance.  It is now made up of 28 north american and european countries, and with partners that span the globe. According to the NATO website, the organization functions on a core principle, listed in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty: "an attack on one member is an attack on all."

What are they doing?

Currently their main focus is the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission in Afghanistan.  This mission began just after the September 11th attacks, and includes assisting the Afghan government and creating a stable environment in the country, in order to prevent further attacks like 9/11 from occurring. However, they are also working on four other missions: leading a peace-suport operation in Kosovo (since June 1999), patrolling the Mediterranean on ships to prevent terrorist activity, combatting piracy off in the Gulf of Aden and the Horn of Africa and providing support for the African Union mission in Somalia.  They also work on numerous smaller projects that include political reform, military planning, scientific collaboration and humanitarian relief.

Why do they hold summits?

Though there is a smaller council called the North Atlantic Council, (NAC), that meets weekly to discuss various points of NATO business, every year or two NATO will hold a larger summit that brings together heads of NATO nations in order to facilitate larger, more in-depth discussions about strategic questions facing NATO missions.  These are important, because in order for NATO to act, any decision made must have unanimous consent.

What is going to be discussed?

This summit is going to focus primarily on NATO's mission in Afghanistan, which is scheduled to end in two years.  The leaders will be discussing the transition from a combat to advisory role, and how to help the Afghan military after the mission ends.

Why are people protesting?

There are many reasons people are protesting NATO.  Some are protesting government policy that they believe benefit corporations over the middle and lower class, some are protesting against the war in Afghanistan (or war all together) and some are protesting the large amounts of money being spent on military and defense, as a result of NATO, rather than on public services and other resources.  Some of the biggest protesters for this NATO summit include Occupy Chicago, National Nurses United and Iraq Veterans Against The War.

Will my campus still be open during this time?

Campuses in the Loop face the biggest inconvenience and several are closing in response.  Columbia College Chicago and Robert Morris University will close from May 18-21 and Roosevelt will be closed for the duration of the summit. Students taking classes at Northwestern and DePaul's downtown campuses will have their classes moved to the Evanston and Lincoln Park campuses, respectively. Loyola University Chicago undergraduate is out of session for the summer, but graduate classes will remain unaffected, and the University of Illinois at Chicago and University of Chicago will remain open. Find out more about these closings from CBS Chicago. 

How will I be affected in the city?

Traffic changes and street closings will be the biggest changes this weekend.  Most of those street closings and lane reductions will be confined to the Loop, so check out those closings at the Chicago NATO site, here. the Several CTA routes will be re-routed because of this.  Check out individual re-routes at the CTA website, here.  Some officials are also encouraging people to dress in street clothes, rather than business professional attire, as to not be targeted by protesters.

Further links and reading:

Don't take our word for it.  Check out this reporting and briefing on activity surrounding NATO:

NBC Chicago: "What is NATO?  What Will Leaders be Discussing?"

NATO: "What is NATO?", Chicago Summit 2012

Chicago Tribune: "NATO Summit" 

Occupy Chicago: Main page 

CBS Chicago: "Opposing NATO Views Class In Pre-Summit Debate" 

Chicago Sun-Times: "NATO Summit" 

Do you agree or disagree with NATO? Or are you more miffed that your morning commute is going to be a bit tangled? Let us know!  Comment below or tweet us @Chicago_U.

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