NATO looks for new start internally and with Russia

Saturday, November 20, 2010

LISBON - NATO leaders looked for a new start both in the alliance and in relations with Russia at a summit that ended Saturday in Lisbon, where they launched a string of initiatives for future cooperation.

NATO has been mired in the conflict in Afghanistan for eight years, and has struggled to modernise its forces to handle the fight. Relations with Russia have been icy since the Georgian war of 2008.

But the Lisbon summit “adopted the new road map for the future, which will create NATO (version) 3.0″, and set a “fresh start between NATO and Russia”, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in two Twitter messages summarizing his view of the summit.

Atop the list of decisions was a NATO call for the alliance to set up an anti-ballistic missile screen by bringing long-range US missiles to Europe and creating a computer programme to link shorter-range European systems to it.

That decision “offers a role for all of our allies. It responds to the threats of our times. It shows our determination to protect our citizens from the threat of ballistic missiles”, US President Barack Obama said.

On Saturday, NATO leaders invited Russia to “explore jointly the potential for linking current and planned missile-defence systems”, an invitation Russian President Dmitry Medvedev accepted.

That decision met with thunderous acclaim, with Medvedev calling it “historic”, Rasmussen referring to a “true turning point” and German Chancellor Angela Merkel naming it a “milestone”.

However, Medvedev hinted at possible conflicts to come by saying that Russia would want to be included in decision-making, something which is a red line for the US and NATO’s former communist states.

A number of leaders urged the US Senate to quickly ratify the New START arms-control treaty to prevent international tension.

“Unprompted, I have received overwhelming support from our allies here that the New START treaty is a critical component to US and European security. They have urged both privately and publicly that this gets done,” Obama said.

NATO approved a new “strategic concept”, a plan for its development over the next decade. The concept calls on the alliance to expand its military focus from “classic” warfighting to more complex issues of crisis management and conflict prevention.

That would include improving cooperation with non-NATO countries and organisations such as the European Union and UN. However, in deference to Turkey’s dispute with EU member Cyprus, the summit only said that NATO would make “our contribution to create more favourable circumstances” for cooperation.

NATO leaders approved a call to cut the number of NATO main bases, shedding an estimated 5,000 jobs. They did not decide which bases should be closed, with tough political arguments expected on the issue in the coming months.

On Saturday, meanwhile, NATO leaders met with heads of the 20 other countries that have troops in Afghanistan, to agree that their soldiers should start pulling out of the front line in the first half of 2011 and try to end the process by 2014.

“We have launched the process by which the Afghan people will once again become masters in their own house,” Rasmussen said.

They simultaneously pledged to support Afghanistan even after the combat mission ends, chiefly by training Afghan soldiers and police and supporting development and reconstruction.

“I found today a strong commitment by the international community, and this … will be matched by the determination and hard work of the people of Afghanistan,” Afghan President Hamid Karzai said.

After the NATO summit, Obama held talks with the EU’s political and executive heads, Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso.

That brief summit discussed ways to improve EU-US economic ties.

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