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U.S., NATO Outlining Priorities for November Summit in Latvia

30 March 2006

List includes Afghanistan, Africa, relief work, special forces, new partners

By Vince Crawley
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- NATO’s top priority for its November summit in Latvia is ensuring the 26-nation military alliance succeeds after taking over security operations throughout Afghanistan, a senior U.S. diplomat says.

Kurt Volker, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, outlined several main topics to be discussed when NATO heads of state meet November 28-29 in Riga, Latvia. Volker listed the priorities during a March 28 speech at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. (See related article.)

“Recognizing the demands that will be placed on NATO now and in the future, we want to see NATO deepen its capabilities for current and future operations, build new partnerships, and prepare for future enlargement,” Volker said. “NATO is where our leaders turn when they want to get something done. We need to make sure our leaders are not disappointed.”

The United States “fully supports” strengthening the military capabilities of the European Union, Volker said. But the United States also shares the perspective voiced in February by German Chancellor Angela Merkel that NATO should be the “primary forum for strategic dialogue” between Europe and the United States,” Volker said. (See related article.)

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was founded in 1949 as a way for North America and Western Europe to collectively defend themselves during the Cold War. Since the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, the alliance has taken on new stability missions in a growing geographic area while also inviting 10 former communist countries to join as full members. A key aspect of membership is Article 5 of the Atlantic Charter, which says an attack on one NATO nation is considered an attack on all.

Volker added that NATO enlargement remains inevitable and that adding more members strengthens rather than dilutes the alliance. NATO had 16 members during the final years of the Cold War and yet was able to act effectively, he said. A unique characteristic of NATO is that its decisions must be made by consensus.

“In my view, any issue that commanded consensus among France, the United States, Greece and Turkey and the existing allies [in the 1980s and early 1990s] was likely to command consensus in Europe as a whole,” Volker said. “Moreover, the addition of like-minded democracies committed to collective defense and the advance of freedom would only strengthen NATO.”


Turning his attention to the upcoming summit, Volker said, “Our first priority for Riga is to ensure that NATO succeeds in Afghanistan as it prepares to expand the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to the south and thereafter to the east.” At that point, NATO would be responsible for security throughout Afghanistan, while a U.S.-led coalition would continue pursuing the counter-terrorism mission in the country. (See related article.)

In addition to Afghanistan, “we believe NATO should do more to assist the United Nations and African Union in Darfur,” Volker said. The alliance has supported the transportation and supplying of an African Union peacekeeping force in the region. (See related article.)

“NATO's 2005 humanitarian missions in the [U.S.] Gulf Coast and Pakistan are unlikely to be its last,” Volker said. “NATO must have the manpower and means to be as generous and responsive as it can when disaster strikes.” The alliance activated its NATO Response Force for the first time in October 2005 after the South Asia earthquake.

“In the run-up to Riga, our goal is to ensure that the NRF is strengthened, trained, and funded … to make sure that it is usable,” Volker said of the rapid-response force.

NATO leaders also must discuss ways to fund effectively ever more intensive operations. This could require “creative new approaches” such as a pool of common funding to help augment donations by individual nations for specific missions, Volker said. For example, airlift is a “perennial question” and “critical capability gap” that might need “a long-term, reliable and cost-effective solution,” Volker said.

The ongoing mission in Afghanistan has brought together the special operations forces of several allies. “We believe that at the Riga Summit, NATO should establish a special forces coordination mechanism to build on these cooperative relationships,” Volker said.

The United States also would like to see allies boost their support for the NATO training mission in Iraq, which has trained almost 200 mid- and senior-level Iraqi officers. The Iraq training mission “highlights NATO’s potential as a security trainer, using its expertise to help nations around the world improve the professionalism and accountability of their armed forces,” Volker said.

NATO should also extend its “partnerships in training and education” to neighboring regions in the broader Middle East and in Africa,” Volker said. “Following its assistance in Darfur, the alliance has agreed to do more to assist the African Union [AU] in developing its own peacekeeping forces, and we are working with the AU to define its needs,” he said.

The United States also believes NATO should “develop its relationship with global security partners, such as Australia or Japan,” Volker said. NATO’s Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has said such partnerships would not necessarily be aimed at NATO membership. Instead, the alliance increasingly finds itself deployed alongside like-minded democracies from around the world, so leaders want to develop regular working relationships with these democracies. (See related article.)

Finally, Volker said, heads of state gathering this fall Riga should “set the stage for decisions on enlargement” at its following NATO summit, scheduled for 2008.

A transcript of Volker’s remarks is available on the State Department Web site.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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