Sailing on to the NATO Chicago Summit
We've just concluded the two big warm-up events that have brought into focus what we'll be doing at the NATO Summit in mid-May, scheduled to be held in Chicago.
The first was a meeting with all of the NATO Ministers of Defense and Foreign Affairs (Secretary Panetta and Secretary Clinton and all their 27 contemporaries).
The second was a meeting last week of all the military chiefs of defense, including U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey and his peers. Both were vibrant and lively conversations.
I gave several briefings to both groups concerning global situation from an operational standpoint. In addition to discussing Afghanistan, Syria, the Pacific, the Balkans, and the lessons of Libya, we finalized the key topics for the upcoming Summit:
Overall, everyone seems satisfied with the current plan to get us from now through the end of 2014, when the Afghan Security Forces will be fully in charge of security. The Afghans control security for 50% of the population, with an announcement expected shortly that will bring transition to the 75% level. Violence against our forces is down 20% from last year, and the Afghan ability to respond to attacks is quite good -- they lead 40% of all operations today. Despite the occasional "high profile incident," the broad strokes of that campaign continue along reasonably well.
At Chicago, the key will be on the post-2014 commitment. I think that the 28 NATO nations and the additional 22 partner nations will make a decade-long commitment to Afghanistan post-2014 -- funding their security forces at a reasonable level, engaging in civil-military cooperation, continuing efforts on economic development and education, and all the other things underway. This commitment will send a strong and vital signal to the Taliban that the international community is here to stay.
The NATO nations were happy to see the successful deployment of a US-based missile defense shield into Europe. They agreed to fold it into the NATO defensive structure, thus fulfilling treaty commitments as well as finding ways to contribute both financially and with their own systems in the future.
In an era of constrained defense budgets, nations need to undertake efforts to specialize in operating high cost systems. Not everyone needs a submarine force, and one ally's euros might be better spent on minesweepers or special forces, for example.
Nations also need to pool and share resources. A good example is what is called "Baltic Air Policing," where nations with high performance aircraft operate an air shield over the Baltic nations. In return, the Baltic nations can concentrate on infrastructure to support the deployments and building their own capabilities in other areas.
Missile defense is of course another good example of smart defense. So is the Alliance Ground Surveillance System (AGS), which buys a Global-Hawk like unmanned aircraft fleet and deploys it to Italy under control of the NATO Command Structure.
NATO has been very successful in partnering with a wide variety of nations in missions across the last ten years. In Afghanstian, we have 22 international partners with troops on the ground, from Tonga, Australia, and New Zealand in the south Pacific to El Salvador (and soon, hopefully, Colombia) from Latin America.
In the Libyan campaign, we also had the good fortune to have five partners from the Arab world, as well as traditional ally Sweden.
And in the Balkans, where events continue to be challenging, we have Austria, Finland, Sweden, and other European partners working alongside our NATO forces.
At the Chicago summit, there will be several "partnership events," to include a wide variety of nations working with NATO around the world.
So, as we think about the importance of the NATO alliance -- 140,000 troops around the world in current operations in Afghanistan, the Balkans, piracy, Libya until recently, and on patrol protecting the alliance -- we should have a lively discussion from all of the heads of state and government in Chicago!
Supreme Allied Commander, Europe
Commander, US European Command