As well as adopting a new 10-year strategic concept at its Lisbon summit, NATO has invited Russia to cooperate on a missile defense shield. Chancellor Merkel has said this would mark the definitive end of the Cold War.
NATO is on a missile defense charm offensive with Russia
NATO leaders sought to entice Russia into collaborating on a missile defense shield at the alliance's annual summit in Lisbon, ahead of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's arrival on Saturday.
"Missile defense will bind the NATO allies closer together," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who visited Moscow earlier this month, said at the summit. "By reaching out and inviting Russia to cooperate with us, I believe we also have a real chance to build a security roof for the entire Euro-Atlantic area."
Initial plans for a missile defense shield in eastern Europe, led by the US, were met with considerable skepticism in Moscow, with the Kremlin often questioning whether the new network was designed to deal with potential attacks from countries like Iran, or to target Russia. However, the Russian stance has softened of late, with Medvedev recently calling on NATO to offer more concrete details on how a cooperative program might work.
"The fact that we are talking to Russia about common threats and the chance to cooperate with Russia on missile defense is an extremely important step," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said. "That could be proof that the Cold War has finally come to an end."
US President Barack Obama also hailed the progress made on the defense shield, saying the planned network would be "strong enough to cover all NATO European territory and populations, and the United States."
A suggestion to tie the missile shield to nuclear disarmament by German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who wants the remaining US nuclear warheads stationed in Germany removed as quickly as possible, was rebuffed by nuclear powers like the US and France, who argued that Europe still needs a nuclear deterrent for the foreseeable future.
Strategic concept for digital age
Merkel says the Lisbon summit will go down in NATO history
NATO leaders also settled on a new 10-year strategic concept for the 21st century, updating their last deal from 1999.
"This summit will go down in NATO history," Merkel said. "The strategic concept is clear and open, and it shows that we are all working on the same foundation."
The text of the new deal repeats the alliance's core commitment for each member state to defend all the others, but is also meant to guide the 28 countries as they reform their armed forces and plan more joint operations over the next decade.
The alliance said it was trying to adapt to face more modern dangers to global security, with Rasmussen mentioning threats like cyber attacks, terrorism and the political and social instability that can spill over from failing states.
"Weak states halfway across the globe can have a direct impact on our security," Rasmussen said. "They can be breeding grounds for terrorism, for drugs, for trafficking of weapons or people. And Afghanistan is an obvious case in point."
The new strategic concept also called for closer cooperation with "any nations and relevant organizations across the globe that share our interest in peaceful international relations," a statement apparently aimed in no small part at the European Union.
NATO and the EU have particularly fraught ties - despite an overwhelming overlap in terms of membership - because of the long-standing impasse between Turkey, a NATO member, and Cyprus, an EU member, who trade vetoes on any proposals for greater cooperation.
Karzai is in Lisbon for tough talks
Afghanistan handover still slated for 2014
As NATO members suffer increasing military losses in Afghanistan, the alliance reiterated its desire to hand over security responsibilities to the administration in Kabul by 2014, amid claims from some NATO and Pentagon officials that this target might not be attainable.
"I see a role for troops after 2014, but with a focus on training security forces," Rasmussen said.
The NATO Secretary General said the transition process would begin next year, and that he considered the 2014 deadline "realistic."
President Obama is set to have private talks with his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai at the Lisbon summit on Saturday, after a period of rather tense relations between the two administrations. Obama has also called for a move towards reconciliation with parts of the Taliban in the country, as NATO forces struggle to make inroads against the insurgency there.
Germany is the third largest contributor to the mission in Afghanistan, although most polls show the engagement is unpopular among the German public.
The two-day summit in Lisbon is set to close on Saturday evening. Local security forces in the Portuguese capital have been on high alert over fears of protests or demonstrations, but the atmosphere so far in the city has been largely calm.
Author: Christoph Hasselbach/msh
Editor: Ian P. Johnson