NATO members pledge to focus on antimissile defenses and fighting terrorism

President Barack Obama says the NATO meetings provide an important opportunity for countries to align their approach to the transition in Afghanistan. (Nov. 19)
By Edward Cody and Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, November 19, 2010; 7:49 PM

LISBON - The U.S.-led NATO alliance, charting a new course for the new century, declared Friday that it will focus on antimissile defenses and fighting terrorism in Afghanistan and "around the globe." It pledged to seek an end to nuclear weapons but resolved to maintain its nuclear deterrent as long as such arms exist anywhere in the world.

The alliance, President Obama said, is "fully united." White House officials, still smarting from foreign policy setbacks during the president's recent Asia trip, described the NATO vision statement - along with anticipated approval Saturday of a transition plan for Afghanistan - as a full "embrace" of Obama's agenda.

Obama called on the Senate to follow NATO's lead and move toward immediate approval of the new nuclear arms-reduction treaty with Russia. He said leaders from across Europe had told him they support the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) in statements that "could not be clearer."

"Nobody is more aware of the need for a strong, secure and democratic Europe than our Eastern and Central European allies," Obama said of the newest NATO members, whose concerns have been cited by Republican opponents of the treaty.

"Just as this is a national security priority for the United States," he said, the treaty will "strengthen our alliance, and it will strengthen European security."

The reset Strategic Concept, adopted at the start of the two-day NATO summit in Lisbon, constitutes a formal commitment to stretch the alliance's once-limited purview to distant wars, such as the Afghanistan conflict, if they are judged necessary to prevent terrorist attacks from reaching the borders of the 28 member nations in Europe and North America.

In many ways, it was policy catching up with facts on the ground. NATO has been officially involved in the Afghan war for seven years, and some of the alliance's leading militaries, particularly the United States, have been fighting there for nine years. But the decision by NATO leaders dramatized a desire to officially expand alliance activities toward the threats that have emerged since the North Atlantic Treaty was signed in 1949 to counter the Soviet Union.

"The world is changing," said Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the NATO secretary general. "We have new threats and new challenges."

Afghanistan tops agenda

In that vein, Afghanistan was the most pressing topic as leaders gathered in the Portuguese capital under a drumming fall rain. Rasmussen confirmed that the alliance will announce Saturday that it plans to begin this spring to turn over control to Afghan forces and civilian officials in some parts of the war-ravaged country. The schedule, he said, calls for the entire country to be under Afghan government control by 2014 but for a considerable international force to remain indefinitely in a backup role in what was portrayed as a NATO-Afghan partnership.

Obama administration officials hailed the Strategic Concept as the outcome of policies they said the president set in motion last year, beginning with a speech in Prague in which he set the goal of a "world without nuclear weapons" but warned that it would not be achieved in his lifetime.

Ivo Daalder, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, said a key decision was to rework, expand and seek alliance cooperation in a missile defense system that some members had long resisted. "Previous administrations," most of them Republican, "tried to get a European missile defense system and didn't succeed," Daalder said.

As newly configured, Obama said, the proposed system is "strong enough to cover all NATO European territory and populations, as well as the United States."

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