Hagel Arrives in Brussels for NATO Defense Meetings
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
BRUSSELS, June 3, 2013 Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel arrived here today to join NATO and partner defense ministers for discussions on topics including Afghanistan, cybersecurity, a possible Libya training mission and collective defense.
Hagel flew here after participating in the Shangri-La Dialogue security conference in Singapore.
Senior defense officials traveling with the secretary noted the ministerial gathering here comes at a time when NATO capabilities and members’ defense spending are important issues.
“Just as the secretary had a chance to do in Singapore,” one official said, “he’ll be reassuring our allies about our commitment to the alliance, to a strong defense, and to the capabilities necessary for us to not only meet our alliance commitments, but to continue to lead the alliance in the 21st century.”
One official noted the NATO defense conference follows a number of recent engagements between key NATO members and government officials. For example, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen met May 31 with President Barack Obama at the White House.
During a news conference following that meeting, Obama said discussion had focused on the NATO mission in Afghanistan after 2014, when Afghan forces will have assumed security responsibility throughout their country. Meanwhile, the president said, the transition to Afghan lead for combat operations continues, and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force is shifting into a “train, assist, and advise” mission.
The president said he and Rasmussen agreed that a 2014 NATO summit will “facilitate the entire process” of planning NATO’s contribution to a secure post-2014 Afghanistan. Obama said Rasmussen will work to begin planning for that summit.
“Not only will we be able to underscore this final chapter in our Afghan operations,” Obama said about the 2014 summit, “but also to paint a picture of a future whereby we’re partnering with the Afghan government on behalf of the Afghan people and on behalf of world security.”
Rasmussen said the alliance is preparing for the post-2014 training mission.
“It will be a very different mission -- a noncombat mission with a significantly lower number of troops and trainers,” he said.
Senior defense officials traveling with Hagel said today that this week’s ministerial meeting in Brussels will see some discussion of post-2014 troop numbers, but no final decision is expected to be made this week.
The defense ministers also will meet this week in their first dedicated session on cybersecurity, one senior official said. He noted that early this year, then-Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta had suggested a dedicated NATO focus on cyber issues at the defense ministers’ level, and this week’s session is the result. Ministers will examine cybersecurity as a collective defense issue, he said, with the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Estonia taking the lead on discussions.
“Due to the call to action by the United States, the alliance has been working over the past several months on a variety of proposals to help shore up alliance defense,” a senior official said.
Those efforts will focus on NATO’s own networks, defense officials said, but will also touch on ways nations can help to protect the commercial networks that intersect their defense systems. One official noted the session will include discussion of U.S. Defense Department initiatives to help extend network defense capabilities to key defense industrial base partners.
Turning to a possible NATO mission to train Libyan forces, a senior official noted that that topic was discussed during Obama’s meeting with Rasmussen last week. The president remarked after that meeting that NATO conducted a very successful mission to help liberate Libya from a decades-long dictatorship.
“We now have a Libyan government that is in a transition process,” Obama said. Other nations can help to ensure a democratically elected Libyan government can control its borders and prevent terrorist safe havens, he added.
“I think NATO has an important role to play on that front,” the president said.
Syria is not an official agenda item, senior officials noted, but they acknowledged it is likely to be discussed on the margins of the official sessions in Brussels.
Hagel also will have pull-aside discussions with his French and Spanish counterparts, officials said, and will meet in a four-way discussion with French, British and Canadian defense ministers on the margins of the official sessions.
In his first few months as secretary, Hagel already has hosted many of his counterparts for meetings at the Pentagon, a senior official noted. By the time he leaves Brussels, the official added, Hagel, on this trip alone, will have completed 20 separate face-to-face meetings with partner nation or allied senior defense and political leaders.
This is Hagel’s first NATO defense ministerial conference as secretary, officials said, but they noted he has visited and spoken at NATO headquarters many times and was closely involved with the most recent NATO summit, the 2012 gathering in Chicago.