NATO leaders have agreed on a new 10-year strategy at a summit in Lisbon to allow the alliance to focus on new threats, including cyber warfare and ballistic missile attacks.
Rasmussen said the new strategy would focus on new threats
NATO leaders have agreed on a new 10-year strategy of the military alliance at the opening of what Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen called "the most important summit" since the alliance's creation over 60 years ago.
"We face new threats and challenges and this strategic concept will ensure NATO remains as effective as ever in defending our peace and security ... It also modernizes the way NATO does defense in the 21st century," he said.
The document - the details of which were not immediately clear - is to recommit NATO to defending any of its members that comes under attack.
The new concept is meant to make NATO more "effective, engaged and efficient," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said as he opened the summit amidst heavy rain in Lisbon.
Missile defense shield
US President Barack Obama said after Friday's meetings in Lisbon had come to a close that NATO leaders had agreed to set up a new anti-missile defence shield across Europe and to invite Russia to take part.
"I'm pleased to announce that for the first time, we have agreed to develop a missile defence capability that's strong enough to cover all NATO European territory and populations, as well as the United States," Obama said.
Rasmussen had announced earlier that the defense shield would be a major part of NATO's new strategy, stressing that NATO needed to take the threat of ballistic missile attacks more seriously.
The leaders see Saturday as a potential turn of the tide
"I expect that the summit will agree that NATO develop the capability to defend Europe against missile attacks. There is a clear threat. The capabilities to defend against those attacks exist and we can afford it," Rasmussen said.
Rasmussen also made a point of extending NATO's invitation to Moscow to join the talks on the creation of the missile-defense system.
"By reaching out and inviting Russia to cooperate with us, I believe we have a real chance to build a security roof for the entire Euro-Atlantic area," Rasmussen said, adding that he wanted to reassure that the missile screen was not meant to block attacks from Russia.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Russia's participation in the talks could mean a new phase of cooperation between the two former archenemies, saying before she took off for Lisbon that she wished for Russia "to be as involved as possible."
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, meanwhile, is due to join the summit on Saturday and is widely expected to agree to such talks.
Withdrawal from Afghanistan
Also on Saturday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai will arrive in Lisbon for talks on the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan, which is planned to begin mid-2011.
NATO leaders will formally announce the exit strategy at the summit, hoping to bring an end to the war viewed as highly unsuccessful for the United States and its allies. Over 2,000 foreign troops have been killed since the ISAF mission began in late 2001.
NATO is set to announce 2014 as its pull-out goal
The leaders are expected to resolve upon conferring responsibility for the security of the country onto Afghan forces currently being trained by NATO forces.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who arrived in Lisbon early on Friday, said Washington "recognized and respected the sovereignty of the Afghan people" and that the Obama administration was working "closely together" with the government to ensure a timely transition of security.
"We will agree on the beginning of a transition to Afghan security starting next year with the intention and goal of turning over Afghan security to the government and people of Afghanistan in 2014," Clinton told reporters in Lisbon, adding, that there would be "continued commitment of civilian support."
Author: Gabriel Borrud (Reuters, AFP)
Editor: Rob Turner