Twenty-Eight Yeses

Posted by John Heffern
April 21, 2010
NATO Meeting in Brussels

About the Author: John Heffern serves as Deputy Chief of Mission, USNATO.

I can't even do this around the Thanksgiving dinner table with family: get 27 people to agree with me on one thing -- say, whether dark meat or white meat is better. But through negotiation and diplomacy, the U.S. Mission to NATO (USNATO) gets our closest friends to agree on international security issues that protect us all. And, much like a family holiday feast, cookies get us through the tough parts.

When Secretary Clinton and the foreign ministers from the 27 other NATO Allies meet twice a year, they make decisions on priority security issues that are recorded in a formal public communique, an official final statement of the decisions of the meeting. But weeks before the Secretary and her counterparts fly in, USNATO policy officers and their colleagues from other NATO member countries meet to hammer out consensus on the best possible language.

Among the issues discussed and decided at the December 2009 ministerial by Secretary Clinton and her counterparts was how to help protect Allied populations, territory, and forces from the growing missile threat. President Obama's new missile defense policy was announced in September 2009 and articulated by Secretary of Defense Gates to NATO defense ministers the following month. To reinforce our main points on missile defense, and to underline Allied support, Washington wanted to ensure some key points were included in the formal communique.

NATO decides policy by consensus, which means every country around the table has to say "yes" to every single word on the paper. You might be familiar with getting a committee of people to approve a memo you've written, or in State Department terms, a cable. For the communiques, we not only have to consult colleagues in Washington at the State Department, Defense Department and the National Security Council on the text, but we also -- after finally getting all U.S. policy input -- must then bring our already-hashed language to the table at NATO.

Through a week of intense negotiation, USNATO built support for the concepts, tried different formulations of language, and sought to build consensus on the wording. During long sessions, we broke out the cookies, which are a USNATO tradition. The cookies keep spirits up, give us an excuse to break for discussions on the margins that build trust, and demonstrate our genuinely collegial approach to the meetings.

Then the meetings got longer, and the document evolved. The two days and nights before Secretary Clinton and the foreign ministers arrived, the delegations met and, much like in a West Wing episode, back-bench officers rifled through papers to find references or made quick calls to Washington for clarification. In between sessions, the staff from other delegations also rushed to phones to consult their own capitals on proposed language before reconvening to indicate what was or was not acceptable.

Some Allies thought our missile defense language was too broad. We had to pick up our words, turn them around, and try different ways to say what we wanted without "watering down" our point. And then we had to seek Washington approval -- again. We proposed "territorial missile defense" instead of "missile defense of populations, territory, and forces." We proposed “essential part of NATO's broader response" instead of "appropriate and viable mission for the Alliance." Neither of these formulations gained consensus, but more Allies started to like the direction of the language. We broke and reconvened a few more times until it was done. The final agreed language was very close and, in some ways, even better than our initial instructions from Washington directed.

The result: For the first time, NATO has strong language asserting that missile defense plays an important role as part of the Alliance's collective defense mission and of the Alliance's broader response to missile threats. That means we made clear to any doubters that NATO is serious about this aspect of our defense -- that we'll all do what it takes and spend what it takes to protect our people.

And that was just the missile defense piece of the communique. The Secretary and her counterparts also negotiated and decided on increased troops, trainers, and funds for Afghanistan; possible future members of NATO; formally restarting and restructuring the NATO-Russia Council; and launching a joint review of 21st-century security challenges.

Now USNATO is prepping for the NATO Summit in Lisbon this November, which will put President Obama and other heads of state around the table and in front of another piece of paper. We've already begun hammering out language. And collecting cookie recipes.

Not glamorous? Twenty-eight pant suits and suits sitting around a table deciding word-for-word language on issues that affect the security of North America and Europe? It's not for everyone. But it's how diplomacy gets done, and it's how we work international security to protect ourselves and our friends. And that's something all 28 can say "yes" to.

On April 22-23, 2010, Secretary Clinton travels to Estonia to attend the NATO Informal Foreign Ministerial. The Secretary will participate in meetings with NATO Allies to discuss a range of issues before the Alliance, including European security and Afghanistan. Follow the Secretary's travels here.



Gloria G.
April 21, 2010

Gloria G. in Canada writes:

John Heffern concludes: "Twenty-eight pant suits and suits sitting around a table deciding word-for-word language on issues that affect the security of North America and Europe? It's not for everyone. But it's how diplomacy gets done, and it's how we work international security to protect ourselves and our friends. And that's something all 28 can say 'yes' to."

As a Canadian, who witnessed from a distance the disintegration of the working relationships between the previous administration and the American people not to mention between other countries and nations, to see the Obama adminstration use consensus as the vanguard for policy-making just warms the cockles of my mind and heart.

America may very well be climbing out of the "U" curve of its reported decline as a world superpower. God Bless America, indeed!

New Mexico, USA
April 21, 2010

Eric in New Mexico writes:

"cookies get us through the tough parts."
-John Heffern, D C of M, USNATO.

It's precious insights into the inner-workings of the mechanisms of international diplomacy like this that leave one, like a scientific discovery often will, with more questions as a result of a clue gained.

All right then, that being the case, We all want to know what's in those cookies and the public won't be satisfied until we get the recipe.


I just can't help direct imagination's wanderings as I stumble into a hypothetical exchange during a heated discussion.

Goes like this here...


"Pass the cookies please."


"You're cut off, you've already had more than your share."


"Gimme a cookie and I'll go out of area."


"The nerve! Oh...all right, here you go...satisfied?


"Mmmmm! COOKIE!"


"Just eat it and shut up with the caveats, you're dropping crumbs all over the place."


"Caveats!!? I don't see no stinkin' Caveats! Those are sprinkles dude!"


"How we going to resolve this?"


"The caveats or the sprinkles all over the place?"


"What about the crumbs?"


"They don't get a vote."


"That's insulting to the crumbs, they have rights too."


"Yeah, they have the right to lay down their arms and eat cookies in peace."


"Or rest in peace..."


"No caveats?"


"No off target sprinkles either."


"Dig it."




"Be it resolved then?"


"Hey! I didn't get a cookie!"


"Go for it, just save some for the locals, ok?"

(to be cont...)

Getting serious now after getting that out of my system, I'm really happy to see NATO working as a team again.

Keep up the good work John, and safe travels,


Haakon D.
April 21, 2010

Haakon D. in Japan writes:

From your post: "For the first time, NATO has strong language asserting that missile defense plays an important role... That means we made clear to any doubters that NATO is serious about this aspect of our defense -- that we'll all do what it takes and spend what it takes to protect our people."

We have done no such thing. We have done an about-face on an approved deployment of proven missile defense technology to Eastern Europe. The only thing we have proven is that we will proudly substitute words on paper for systems in place when it comes to our commitments to our NATO partners.

United States
April 26, 2010

Scott B. in USA writes:

Why did the Department of state receive a increase in pay last year when everyone else was loosing their jobs? I know many people that work for the DoS and they said they received as much as a 30% pay raise?

April 26, 2010

A. writes:


may 1410

already out of time get set

trojan Iron Horses as per Daily General.

Idea and next step in civilization.

cpt kirk

cya ;)

New Mexico, USA
April 21, 2010

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ John Heffern,


Here's my State contribution to continued discussion on cookie crumbs and sprinkles...(chuckle).

Due credit is given to the cook.


These spicy, anise-flavored cookies from New Mexico are rich, crisp, and very easy to make. Biscochitos are the holiday cookie staple in New Mexico.

The Biscochito is New Mexico’s Official State Cookie as declared by the New Mexico Legislature in 1989. Biscochitos were first introduced to Mexico by Spanish settlers who brought the recipe from Spain.

Stored in a tightly sealed container, they can be frozen up to six months.


1 ½ cups lard, chilled*
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar, divided
2 eggs
2 teaspoons anise seeds
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
About 3 tablespoons brandy, apple juice, or milk*
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon


Preheat oven to 350°F. Beat lard and 1 cup sugar in a bowl until fluffy. Add eggs and anise seeds, and beat until very light and fluffy. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Add to creamed mixture along with the brandy. Mix thoroughly to make a stiff dough. Place dough on a long piece, about three feet of waxed paper at one end. Bring the long end over the top and press to about one inch or slightly less in thickness and refrigerate until chilled.)

Roll out dough between waxed paper to just under ½ inch thickness. Cut with flour dusted cutters into the traditional fleur de lis shape or into 3-inch rounds. Combine the 3 remaining tablespoons sugar and the cinnamon in a shallow bowl; dip unbaked cookies into the sugar-cinnamon mixture on one side. Place cookies on ungreased baking sheets. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until tops of cookies are just firm. Cool cookies on wire racks.

*Notes: Butter or margarine can be substituted for the lard, however the cookies will not be as crisp and moist. Apple juice or milk can be substituted for the brandy, however they are not quite as good.

Makes 4 dozen cookies

Recipe courtesy of Jane Butel’s Southwestern Kitchen,


John P.
April 21, 2010

John P. in Greece writes:

Great recipe Eric.

However, final credit is given to the chef, not the cook, or the grill man.

People think that can be chefs, while they are just cooks. Grill men think that they can become a cook… and it goes.

The difference between a chef and a cook is that a cook can just cook, while a chef can manage to keep satisfied at least 4 tables of 4 persons “managing” the cook(s).

According to me you are a GRAND CHEF!

So, I’ll try your Biscochito.

Many Best Regards! I hope you are fine my friend!
(and not forget feeding the cat)

New Mexico, USA
April 22, 2010

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ John in Greece,

I defer to your supperior cullinary lexicon and knowlege of these matters.

I confess, I am but semi-domesticated and am still trying to perfect the art of boiling water.

I beg your patience with the above circumstance, though I have become expert at opening cans of cat food.

This was simply a matter of survival so I could keep my toes from being fanged by felinius terriblius rex on a consistant basis when passing by her pillbox lair.

"I think it goes without saying that we are all slaves to circumstance on a whole lot of levels, the question remains as to the approaches we use to change those circumstances on every possible level of engagement targeting the inflection points of change to suit the needs of the people."

-Dip 5's unspoken thoughts on the matter in the previous hypothetical exchange posted here, as he couldn't get a word in edgewise due to a mouthfull of cookie and chugging his glass of milk...

There's more to all this than meets the pallette on it's way to the gullet...(to be continued).

Life is good and then you get a cookie, thanks for your concern my friend. Hope you are well,



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