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American Forces Press Service

Gates Finds Broad Support for New Missile Defense Approach

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia, Oct. 23, 2009 – NATO defense ministers are expressing broad support for the new U.S. approach to missile defense in Europe and the opportunity it may offer to make Russia a partner in the effort, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today.

Speaking to reporters during a NATO defense ministers conference here, Gates said he’s hearing “quite broad support for the new approach,” as well as “interest in extending our hand to the Russians to invite them to partner with us in this.”

Gates reported widespread agreement that the proposed changes “will provide for more capable and flexible missile defense systems sooner than was the case under the previous plan, and with a greater capacity to adapt as threats evolve.”

The new approach will make it easier for the United States to connect its systems to the allies’ radars and antimissile capabilities, as well as those of Russia, should it decide to participate, he said.

“We have said for a long time that we would welcome Russia” as a partner in missile defense, Gates said.

A radar system based in southern Russia “would be a real asset to the overall defense of Europe, particularly from Iranian missiles,” he told reporters. “This new system would make tying it in easier.”

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters the plan "puts missile defense more in a NATO context," and that it will provide defense against "a real and growing" missile threat.

Much of today’s conference focused on NATO’s role in Afghanistan, Gates said. The ministers discussed the need to reform the International Security Assistance Force’s operational culture, to improve its ability to counter improvised explosive devices and to support the Afghan security force training mission.

Gates said he noted several NATO milestones during his discussions. The Kosovo security force obtained its initial operating capability, thanks in large measure to NATO’s role there, he said. In addition, NATO’s new, dedicated heavy airlift wing performed its first mission, resupplying Swedish forces in Afghanistan.

And after extensive effort, the allied ground surveillance program went into effect. The program is considered an essential element in increasing situational awareness for NATO forces.

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