By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
April 3, 2009 - NATO has pressing issues concerning Afghanistan and the alliance's future role amid celebrations of its 60th anniversary, President Barack Obama said today. Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke to reporters in Baden-Baden, Germany, today – the first day of the annual NATO summit meeting of 28 member countries that takes place in Strasbourg, France, and Kehl, Germany, through tomorrow, and a day before NATO's 60th birthday.
"As we celebrate this important landmark for NATO, we are reminded that not only do we have immediate joint efforts in Afghanistan that have to be bolstered and have to become more effective, but we also have to have a strategic framework for how NATO moves forward," Obama said.
The president called NATO the most successful alliance in modern history – so effective, in fact, that it never had to fight during the decades-long Cold War. The kind of imagination that enabled that kind of success should be replicated in NATO's mission in Afghanistan and in other aspects of the alliance, he said.
"That kind of vision that was implemented, and that kind of imagination, has to be adapted to the 21st-century challenges that we face -- not just Afghanistan," he said. Leaders must determine the roles NATO and the U.S.-European Union partnership will play in that effort, he added.
Obama called the Afghanistan mission "as complex of a problem as we're going to see," partly because the problem deals both with Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Obama administration last week unveiled a new Afghan-Pakistan strategy that emphasizes the use of both military and civilian tools.
"We've put forward a new comprehensive review of how we think we should approach this that recognizes that military alone cannot solve these problems, that we have to have a significant military force, but that it has to be combined with a diplomatic effort and a development effort that can stabilize the region," he said.
The president added that the focus must center on the "true problem" in Afghanistan and Pakistan -- violent extremists who can project attacks against the United States and Europe, but also worldwide.
"I think that the strategy we've put forward can and will be successful," he said. "But we've got to be disciplined, we've got to be coordinated, and we've got to execute."
In shaping a future arrangement for the alliance, Obama told reporters he has no "grand designs." Instead, he said, he intends to use the summit to listen, share ideas and contribute to joint decisions.
"If NATO becomes everything, then it's nothing," he said. "So obviously, we're going to have to define and clarify its roles [and] responsibilities, for the 21st century."
At the outset of the news conference, Obama remarked on the U.S.-German relationship, thanking Merkel for her leadership and friendship, and praising Germany as an extraordinary ally.
Merkel said the new approach to the mission in Afghanistan aligns with Germany's view.
"What is indeed gratifying to note is that the new approach of the new administration of the United States as regards Afghanistan is very much in step with what Germany is envisaging," she said. "This sort of networked security, as we call it, or an integrated security, where you have a civilian component of rebuilding, training, and, last but not least, obviously also the capacity of the Afghans to really defend themselves.
"That is, after all, what we're after with our mission to Afghanistan," she added.