New NATO strategy alters deployment of weapons systems

By Karen DeYoung and Edward Cody
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, November 17, 2010; A10

As NATO struggles to define itself in a post-Cold War world of new threats and tight budgets, the alliance this week will lay out a vision for itself that is meant to better reflect the realities of the 21st century.

The Strategic Concept, NATO's first mission statement in more than a decade, will be unveiled at a gathering in Lisbon that alliance Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen called "one of the most important summits in the history of our alliance."

The statement will embrace deployment of a land-based alliance missile-defense system and approve cost-cutting plans to reduce overlapping weapons systems and streamline NATO's command structure. It will echo President Obama's ideal of "a world without nuclear weapons," but it will make clear that NATO will retain its nuclear deterrent as long as others have such weapons.

It also will commit NATO to developing new capabilities for cyber-defense and counterterrorism, as well as enhanced air defense and ground surveillance systems.

Obama leaves Thursday night for the two-day meeting, a fast turnaround just days after he returned from a 10-day tour of Asia to face resurgent Republicans after their midterm election victory.

Remaining in Lisbon a little more than 24 hours, Obama will participate in the Strategic Concept discussions Friday and a Saturday morning session on Afghanistan to be addressed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top coalition military commander in Afghanistan.

Non-NATO members of the 48-nation coalition also will be represented in Lisbon to approve a plan to begin a four-year transition to Afghan security control in the spring. NATO also anticipates announcing that it has met its goal for up to 1,000 new coalition trainers for Afghan forces, after Canada agreed this week to provide nearly all of them.

Senior administration officials who briefed reporters on the summit plans Tuesday, as well as other U.S. and European officials who discussed the ongoing negotiations, spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will attend the first summit-level meeting of the NATO-Russia Council, which was suspended after Russia's 2006 intervention in Georgia. While bilateral U.S.-Russia relations "have improved significantly over the past year," a senior administration official said, "relations with NATO have lagged. We see this as an opportunity to move to a new stage . . . from focusing on differences . . . to practical cooperation on a host of issues," including piracy, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

"The big decision," Rasmussen said in an interview at NATO headquarters in Brussels, "will be to invite Russia to cooperate in nuclear defense," a concept that Moscow has displayed little enthusiasm for in the past.

Rasmussen, who met with Medvedev and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow earlier this month, said they agreed the response to the invitation will be a six-month joint analysis of what Russian cooperation would mean.

"That's a major shift," Rasmussen said. "There are a lot of questions that must be answered on the degree to which they can cooperate with us."

As the Lisbon meeting approached, Rasmussen still was seeking consensus on how nuclear issues would be treated in the Strategic Concept.

Obama's call last year for a nuclear-weapons-free world led many to believe a radical overhaul of NATO policy might be possible.

"Rarely before has a speech by a U.S. president been so selectively perceived, especially in Europe," German diplomat Detlef Waechter wrote in a recent policy paper for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

"Many praised his vision of a world free of nuclear weapons," Waechter said, "but largely ignored the conditions that frame it - the time span ('perhaps not in my lifetime') and the continued will to deter ('the United States will maintain a safe, secure, and effective arsenal')."

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton clarified U.S. goals at a NATO meeting, including an explicit statement that it should remain a nuclear alliance "as long as nuclear weapons exist," while reducing the number of weapons and pursuing missile defense. A high-level "group of experts," tasked by NATO in 2008 with helping lay the groundwork for the Strategic Concept, came to similar conclusions in a report released in May.

Some member states, including Germany, have pushed for a more forceful commitment to the "zero [nuclear] option" as an explicit trade-off for NATO's adoption of an alliance missile-defense system.

But portions of a recent draft of the Strategic Concept, obtained by The Washington Post, made no such connection and said that "deterrence, based on an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional capabilities, remains a core element of our overall strategy." The several-weeks-old draft, which officials said had not been significantly changed, called the alliance's strategic nuclear forces "the supreme guarantee of the security of the Allies."

Plans call for elements of a "territorial" missile-defense system to be placed in Poland, Romania and possibly Turkey. Turkey has expressed hesitation, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday that it would be "impossible" for his country to accept any components inside its territory without command control over them.

Turkey also has objected to naming Iran, which the West has charged is developing nuclear weapons, as a reason for the missile shield. An administration official said Tuesday that no individual nation would be identified in the strategic document.

On another contentious issue, administration officials said the Strategic Concept would not specifically address the hopes of some European nations, including Germany, that the alliance would begin to withdraw tactical nuclear weapons stationed within their borders, but it would promise an early review of NATO's nuclear posture.

A bipartisan group of former national security officials, including former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and former secretaries of state George P. Shultz and Henry Kissinger, have described the weapons as inviting targets for terrorists and of no use in Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

"They are much more of a security liability than an asset," said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Washington-based Arms Control Association.

Cody reported from Brussels.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company