By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
June 12, 2008 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and fellow NATO defense ministers will discuss alliance operations in Afghanistan, the alliance missile defense program, and transition plans for Kosovo during a two-day ministerial beginning here today. The ministers will focus on how NATO nations are moving toward implementing decisions the member nations' heads of state reached at the alliance's April summit in Bucharest, Romania, a senior defense official speaking on background told reporters traveling with Gates.
Afghanistan will dominate much of the conference, the official said. Gates will participate in meetings centered on NATO's Regional Command South and another about Afghanistan in general. In both meetings, the defense ministers will discuss the strategic vision for Afghanistan and conditions around the country.
They also will discuss Pakistan and ways to approach the new Pakistani government. "All allies need to engage with Pakistan; it can't be just the United States," the official said. "The secretary will want to show support for the new Pakistani government, recognizing the government is facing some challenges. But we can't solve problems in Afghanistan without Pakistani support and vice versa."
The NATO defense ministers will discuss progress that Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide, the new representative of the United Nations secretary general for civilian reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, has made and what NATO can do to help him, the official said. Eide has been in office for two months, and NATO defense ministers see his role as helping Afghan leaders tie together NATO, European Union and U.N. reconstruction efforts.
The ministers also will participate in the alliance's Defense Planning Committee. This is an annual review of the status of NATO force-generating capabilities, the official said.
"For the last year, they've negotiated what nations can provide so that they then can take these back and do all their national planning to meet these goals," the official said. "This is the cornerstone of interoperability. This is what the NATO staff and the military folks will use as their basing document for which allies have which capabilities for which operation. It's a very important process that culminates in this meeting."
The NATO defense ministers and those of 11 allied nations also will discuss efforts in Kosovo. The official said the ministers will discuss the progress of the transition of the U.N. mission in Kosovo to the European Union. This is complicated by five NATO nations not recognizing Kosovo independence, the official said.
Tomorrow, the NATO ministers will discuss missile defense. At the Bucharest Summit, the allies agreed ballistic missiles pose an increasing threat to NATO territories and populations. The U.S. long-range missile defense system -- to be based in the Czech Republic and Poland -- will provide coverage for most of Europe, but this still leaves Turkey and portions of Greece, Bulgaria and Romania at risk from a missile attack from Iran. The NATO heads of state agreed in April that the alliance needs to pursue a complementary short-range system for these areas, and the ministers will examine the various options, the official said.
The ministers also will discuss a capabilities initiative agreed to at Bucharest. From the U.S. standpoint, the major part of this discussion is the alliance ensuring all operational requirements are filled. Part of this discussion will look at progress in improving the alliance's airlift and sealift capabilities, the NATO Rapid Response Force, and the alliance ground surveillance system, the official said.
Gates and Russian Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov will participate in the NATO-Russia Council, followed by a meeting with Ukrainian Defense Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov for the NATO-Ukraine Commission.