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Afghanistan, Missile Defense On NATO Summit Agenda


Flags of NATO members hang on their masts in Lisbon

NATO leaders meeting in Lisbon, Portugal at their annual summit have adopted a new strategic charter for the military alliance aimed at countering 21st century threats like insurgencies, terrorism, and ballistic missiles.

Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen called the alliance’s adoption of the 10-year blueprint "an historic moment" and said the new action plan “will put in place an alliance that is more effective, more engaged, and more efficient than ever before.”

“NATO is an unparalleled community of freedom, peace, security, and shared values," he said. "But the world is changing, we face new threats and new challenges and this strategic concept will ensure that NATO remains as effective as ever in defending our peace, our security and our prosperity.”

New Russia Role

The new strategic concept builds on lessons the alliance has learned from its operations in Afghanistan, he said, and includes plans for NATO to boost its role in counterinsurgency operations and stabilization and reconstruction missions, develop a standing capability to train security forces and, for the first time, create a “modest civilian capability” to work with international partners.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s vision of a world free of nuclear weapons is also endorsed in the alliance’s new strategic charter, which commits members to working toward a nuclear-free world but also confirms that until that time, NATO must remain a nuclear alliance.

The annual meeting of the 28 NATO allies is set to see Russia stepping into a new partnership with the alliance. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s acceptance of an invitation to attend the gathering means NATO's complex and evolving relationship with Moscow will be in the spotlight.

Speaking to reporters, Obama said the gathering would reinvigorate the 61-year-old alliance and boost transatlantic ties. "It was here that Europeans came together to sign the landmark treaty that strengthened their union," he said. "Now, we've come to Lisbon again to revitalize the NATO alliance for the 21st century and to strengthen the partnership between the United States and the European Union."

Missile Defense Agreement

At the end of the summit's first day, Obama announced that the alliance had agreed to his plans for a new, expanded missile defense system for Europe that would cover all NATO member countries and the United States. The new system would replace an earlier version that Obama scrapped late last year due to questions about its technical viability and in the face of staunch opposition from Russia.

Rasmussen said the alliance cannot afford to ignore the growing threat to peace from countries with missile capabilities. “The fact is that more than 30 countries in the world have or are acquiring missile technologies, some of them can even hit targets in the Euro Atlantic area, and we intend to build a missile defense system to protect against any of these threats,” he said.

The alliance is trying to persuade Russia to participate in the revamped missile-defense system as part of its rapprochement with Moscow.

A session of the NATO-Russia Council, the first one to be attended by Obama and Medvedev, is scheduled for November 20 to discuss, in addition to missile defense, issues ranging from proliferation, counter terrorism, anti-narcotics policy, and cyber security. The session is expected to produce a document outlining common threats NATO and Russia face and strategies for countering them.

New Member Skepticism

Rasmussen said he hoped NATO’s record of working with its partners to enhance security would work in its favor with Russia. Earlier, he predicted that the summit would usher in a new phase of greater cooperation with Moscow and called for a "fresh start" and cooperation on missile defense.

But newer NATO members from Eastern Europe like Poland and the Baltic states, where memories of Soviet domination are still strong, remain deeply skeptical.

In an article in the November 18 edition of the daily "Gazeta Wyborcza," Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski wrote that he supports developing "constructive relations" with Russia which would be "positive for the security of both sides." But Komorowski added that "relations with Russia should not be developed at the expense of the security interests of other countries in eastern Europe."

Georgia and Ukraine have long sought NATO membership -- though the latter, under President Viktor Yanukovych, has abandoned the Euro Atlantic integration ambitions of former President Viktor Yushchenko -- and Rasmussen made a point of noting that the alliance will continue to welcome new members.

“The strategic concept keeps the door to membership in NATO firmly to European democracies that so wish and that meet our standards. Because the past decades or so is vivid proof that enlargement has helped spread peace, democracy, and prosperity across this continent,” he said.

Poland and other new members have been pushing for the alliance's new strategic concept to beef up defenses on NATO's eastern flank, which they say have been neglected since the end of the Cold War.

On Afghanistan, NATO is expected to set a target to hand over security to Afghan security forces in 2014. The session on Afghanistan, which began tonight and continues tomorrow morning, will be expanded beyond NATO's 28 member states to include all 48 coalition partners participating in the mission.

Rasmussen said the alliance endorsed Karzai’s goal of handing over lead responsibility to the Afghan security forces by the end of 2014 and would soon announce that the transition process will begin in January.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who recently raised eyebrows with the demand that the United States reduce night raids against Taliban leaders, is scheduled to address the November 20 session.

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