May 15, 2012

NATO summit to focus on Afghanistan, missile defense

by Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

Afghanistan will top the agenda items at the upcoming NATO Summit in Chicago as coalition members consider an agreement on a long-term strategic partnership that promotes security and stability there, NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe reported.

“What I am hoping to see is a commitment to resourcing the Afghan national security forces post-2014,” Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis said of the May 20-21 summit, which will include the 28 NATO heads of state and government representatives from many of the 50 nations that make up the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

“I am fairly confident we will see that, and I think that will be the key to long-term success,” Stavridis said during an interview with the Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen considers a long-term strategic partnership with Afghanistan to be a high-level goal, Stavridis told Congress in March.

“Everything I can see around the circuit on the NATO side indicates a strong willingness to go forward,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “And I believe we will have an enduring partnership between NATO and the republic of Afghanistan.”

Missile defense will be another major summit issue, the admiral said, with the announcement that the new missile defense system has reached interim operational capability. This interim system, the first phase of the new U.S.-based European Phased Adaptive Approach Missile Defense System, will be integrated with the NATO command-and-control system to begin standing up the NATO missile defense system, he said.

Looking to the future, Stavridis said he anticipates more discussion of “smart defense” – essentially pooling capabilities in light of shrinking defense budgets confronting all the NATO members.

“As we face these financial pressures today, clearly we need to, in any alliance, come together in efficient ways so we can … generate capability for reasonable amounts of money,” he said.

Stavridis, who also commands U.S. European Command, noted missile defense as an example of financial burden-sharing that provides collective defense. Another is the Baltic air policing mission, in which NATO member nations rotate their fighter jets to defend the airspace over Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia.

Summit participants also will discuss progress on a new alliance ground surveillance system that will give commanders a comprehensive picture of the situation on the ground. NATO’s operation to protect civilians in Libya drove home the importance of such a system, Stavridis said. As a result, 13 allies plan to procure a variant of the Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle and the associated command-and-control base stations and to operate them on behalf of all NATO members, he reported.

Stavridis said he hopes the members will discuss the pooling of resources in other areas such as special operations and cyber in which pooled arrangements would benefit the alliance.

While not necessarily a top agenda item, the apparent inability of some NATO partners to spend 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense as agreed is likely to come up during the summit. Only six members, including the United States, Great Britain and France, currently meet that goal.

Economic and fiscal pressures have caused many European states to reduce their budgets, and Stavridis expressed concern that the situation could adversely impact military readiness.

“We, the United States and its partners who are spending that amount of money, … need to keep pressure on those who are not, so they meet those minimum levels of spending,” he said.

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