By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 21, 2012 – NATO hasn’t just endured, it has thrived, President Barack Obama said at the conclusion of the alliance’s summit in Chicago today.
Alliance and partner-nation leaders met in the Windy City and covered a range of issues from Afghanistan to missile defense to nuclear arms to common defense.
“NATO has been the bedrock of common security, freedom and prosperity for nearly 65 years,” the president said. “It hasn’t just endured, it has thrived, because our nations are stronger when we stand together.”
The Chicago summit saw long, intense discussions on the alliance’s role in Afghanistan and the way forward in that country, the president said. “We’re now unified behind a plan to responsibly wind down the war in Afghanistan, a plan that trains Afghan security forces, transitions to the Afghans and builds a partnership that can endure after our combat mission in Afghanistan ends,” he added.
NATO has transitioned much of the security responsibility to Afghan national security forces. More than 50 percent of the Afghan population is now under the protection of Afghan soldiers and police, and the next step was finalized today, the president said. “We agreed that Afghan forces will take the lead for combat operations next year, in mid-2013,” he said. “At that time, [International Security Assistance Force] forces will have shifted from combat to a support role in all parts of the country.”
Though this is a major step toward completing the transition to an Afghan lead for security by the end of 2014, Obama said, important work remains.
“This will not mark the end of Afghanistan's challenges, obviously, or our partnership with that important country, but we are making substantial progress against our core objective of defeating al-Qaida and denying it safe haven, while helping the Afghans to stand on their own,” he said.
The alliance leaders looked at what kind of relationship NATO will have with Afghanistan post-2014, the president said. “NATO will continue to train, advise and assist and support Afghan forces as they grow stronger,” he added. “While this summit has not been a pledging conference, it’s been encouraging to see a number of countries making significant financial commitments to sustain Afghanistan’s progress in the years ahead.”
The summit carries on work laid down during the alliance’s November 2010 summit in Lisbon, Portugal. Alliance leaders agreed in Chicago on a series of steps to strengthen NATO’s defense capabilities over the next decade, Obama said. This, he added, puts teeth in the strategic concept the leaders agreed to in Lisbon and solidifies the “Article 5” commitment. Article 5 of the Washington Treaty stipulates that an attack on one NATO nation is an attack on all.
In Chicago, the alliance agreed to acquire a fleet of drones to strengthen intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. “We also agreed on a mix of conventional, nuclear missile and missile defense forces that we need,” Obama said. Alliance leaders also agreed on how to pay for these capabilities, to include pooling resources in the face of difficult economic times.
The alliance will move forward with missile defense and announced the NATO system now provides an interim capability. “America’s contribution to this effort will be a phased adaptive approach that we’re pursuing on European missile defense,” the president said. The system calls for a defense radar in Turkey, which will be under NATO control.
“Spain, Romania and Poland have agreed to host key U.S. assets, the Netherlands will be upgrading radars, and we look forward to contributions from other allies,” Obama said.
He was quick to point out that the system is not aimed at Russia and does not undermine Russia’s strategic deterrent. “I continue to believe that missile defense can be an area of cooperation with Russia,” he said.
Finally, the NATO member nations agreed to deepen cooperation with allies, Obama said. The Libyan operation showcased the cooperation with far-flung allies that provided valuable capabilities to the alliance. The 28 nations of the alliance met with the leaders from 13 other countries to strengthen ties.
“Each of these countries has contributed to NATO operations in different ways – military, political, financial – and each wants to see us do more together,” the president said. “To see the breadth of those countries represented in that room is to see how NATO has truly become a hub of global security.”