NATO summit of the decade opens in Lisbon

Friday, November 19, 2010

LISBON - NATO leaders met in Lisbon Friday for a summit to chart the alliance’s course over the next decade and take major decisions on missile defence, Afghanistan and relations with Russia.

Every NATO summit since 2003 has been dominated by the alliance’s mission in Afghanistan, by far the longest and bloodiest operation in its history. Leaders hope to turn the Lisbon summit to future plans and debate a strategic blueprint for the next decade.

“We will develop modern capabilities to defend against modern threats, we will reach out to partners around the globe, we will make a fresh start in our relations with Russia … and we will streamline the alliance to make it more efficient,” NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said as he opened the summit.

The strategic blueprint is meant to guide NATO’s military reforms over the next decade, replacing a text agreed upon in 1999, when NATO’s main security concern was the Kosovo conflict.

It will “ensure that the alliance can meet the new challenges of the 21st century,” US President Barack Obama said as he met Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates before the talks.

Top of the list of decisions to be taken will be one on the creation of anti-ballistic-missile defences across NATO territory by bringing long-range US systems to Europe and creating a computer programme to link various European short-range systems into it.

Diplomats said early drafts of the text identified Iran as the main missile threat to NATO, but that the reference was dropped after Turkey protested, fearing tensions with its neighbour.

The missile defence question also caused a clash between France and Germany over how it would affect NATO’s nuclear stance. However, diplomats said that question was solved Friday morning, leaving Turkey, which is likely to host some of the missile facilities and has demanded a share in commanding the system, as the main obstacle.

Leaders are also expected to invite Russia to link its own national missile defence system to the NATO one, to dispel Russian fears that it could be aimed at NATO’s old Cold War foe.

That decision would be a “milestone in relations between NATO and Russia,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said.

The strategic concept is also expected to call on NATO to boost its abilities to protect critical internet-based systems, to invest in new weapons systems and to improve its cooperation with other major world powers, including China, India and the European Union.

“Weak states halfway across the globe can have a direct impact on our security,” Rasmussen warned, citing Afghanistan as an example.

However, diplomats said it was not yet clear how openly the summit would speak of cooperation with the EU, with Turkey blocking too ambitious an approach because of its conflict with EU member Cyprus.

“I hope this summit will take a step forward” on the NATO-EU relationship, Rasmussen said cautiously.

In an unprecedented move, the president of the Council of EU member states, Herman Van Rompuy, also attended the meeting.

Leaders are also expected to call for the number of NATO main bases to be cut by a third, from 11 to 7, shedding close to 5,000 jobs and saving tens of millions of dollars.

The decision is likely to trigger political wrangles in the coming months as nations argue over which bases exactly should be closed.

On Saturday, NATO leaders are set to meet with the leaders of Russia, the EU, the United Nations, Afghanistan, Japan, and the 20 other nations which have troops in Afghanistan.

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