In Brussels, NATO ministers intend to finalize their biggest military buildup since the Cold War in response to Russia. The alliance is also inviting Montenegro to become its 29th member.
NATO foreign ministers have convened for two days to discuss the daunting array of security challenges facing the alliance: from Afghanistan to the Middle East and North Africa to a rearmed and resurgent Russia. Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said ministers would address "all the important issues."
"We will discuss how NATO can do more to project stability ... and at the same time address how NATO can continue to adapt to a more assertive Russia to find the right balance between defense and dialogue," he told reporters ahead of Thursday's meeting.
On Thursday, the ministers will also officially welcome Montenegro as a new member-designate, subject to approval by the legislatures of NATO states. Russia opposes the former Yugoslav republic of Montenegro's joining.
Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic told representatives of the existing 28 member states in Brussels that he hoped for speedy ratification of Montenegro's membership.
"It is our expectation that the allies would finalize ratification as soon as possible, so that, in mid next year, Montenegro would become a fully fledged member of the alliance," Djukanovic said.
'Deter and dialogue'
The ministers will meet again in July in Warsaw to sign off on boosting troops to Central and East European members as part of NATO's "deter and dialogue" strategy. NATO says the deployment should reassure states that the alliance will not leave them in the lurch should Russia initiate hostilities. In 2014, Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, and NATO also accuses the Kremlin of supporting the civil war in the Donbass region.
The ministers planned to have a "very sober discussion on dealing with Russia," Douglas Lute, the US permanent representative to NATO, said on Wednesday, adding that the Kremlin "essentially has thrown out the rulebook." Lute said: "This is not the predictable partner we thought we had."
Also on the agenda are the EU's response to displacement in the Middle East and Africa, the "Islamic State" and the situation in Libya, which has not regained stability since a NATO intervention helped topple dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. EU foreign affairs head Federica Mogherini will join the NATO ministers on Friday. Twenty-two of the 28 NATO states are EU members.
mkg/msh (AFP, AP)