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NATO Experts Recommend Balance Between Global Challenges, Local Concerns

Madeleine Albright speaks to reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels today after presenting her report to Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
BRUSSELS -- A group of senior international experts has said that NATO must make sure all its allies feel secure as it pursues its aims in the world.

That's the recommendation of a report handed over to NATO at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels today by the group's chairwoman, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

The report says the alliance must balance its increasingly global concerns with reassurances to members with more traditional security concerns, such as the potential threat posed by Russia.

Handing over the report to NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in Brussels, the former U.S. secretary of state said that while it faces a complex array of global challenges, the alliance must not lose sight of its core purpose -- which is collective defense. In order to be effective on the world stage, NATO allies must "renew their vows," Albright said.

"[We must] truly reassure the members of NATO that Article 5 [on mutual defense] remains a core aspect of the alliance," she said, "and, at the same time, that we are prepared to, in order to promote the security of the alliance, be willing to take on challenges abroad."

'Frank And Honest Assessment'

Receiving the report, Rasmussen said it would feed into his preparation of a draft for a new NATO strategic concept, to be approved by allies at their Lisbon summit in November.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen
"The group has taken a hard look at global security trends and given a frank and honest assessment of those areas where we need to transform in order to be fully up meeting the security challenge of the 21st century," Rasmussen said.

NATO's current security strategy blueprint dates from 1999.

The Albright report makes clear NATO must better address the conundrum presented by Russia. Russia, the document says, is "in its own category" among NATO partners. All allies agree its potential as a partner is great, but views differ as to Moscow's willingness to work constructively with NATO.

On the "positive side," Albright said today, there are the shared interests of both NATO and Russia. These include cooperation over Afghanistan, nuclear arms reduction, terrorism, and piracy.

On the negative side are what the report calls "strained feelings" of some of the allies -- mostly former Soviet bloc countries -- who are "more skeptical than others about the Russian government's commitment to a positive relationship."

Not Suggesting A Retreat

The report refers to the 2008 "crisis in Georgia" but makes no mention of the well-publicized fears of the Baltic countries, above all, that the alliance would not or could not protect them against a potential Russian attack.

The adjustment of the balance toward domestic security does not mean, however, that the Albright report suggests a retreat by NATO from its global role of today. On the contrary, "21st century challenges" -- exemplified by Afghanistan and international terrorism -- remain firmly on top of the alliance's agenda. NATO's security will in the foreseeable future depend on its ability to intervene globally.

Terrorists, intent on acquiring weapons of mass destruction, thrive in "anarchy," the report says. Other global challenges are exemplified by piracy and cyberattacks.

The report was compiled by Albright's team of senior international figures after consultations with thousands of officials, experts, and observers -- in NATO nations, but also in other countries, among them Russia. One important theme raised by Albright is the need for greater public support and understanding for NATO's missions among its domestic publics.

"We have understood throughout this process something that the secretary-general emphasized, which is the importance of transparency and public support," she said. "We are an alliance of democracies, which is the basis of the alliance itself, which obviously means that our publics need to understand what this is all about in the 21st century."

In the conditions of the current European financial crisis, this is increasingly about money, as governments are forced to cut costs and slice budgets. But the need for public support also applies to Afghanistan, which remains NATO's biggest operation in the foreseeable future -- and one whose popularity has long been on the wane.

The report also takes a wider look at the region surrounding Afghanistan. It notes that some Central Asian governments have "welcomed and supported NATO's engagement in Afghanistan as a contributor to regional stability." The report says that political reforms and better governance remain crucial to improving security in the region -- or "the region will pose severe dangers both for those who live in it and for those who don't."

The report says NATO must maintain its "open-door" policy toward Ukraine and Georgia but does not go beyond recommending that better use needs to be made of existing arrangements of cooperation.

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