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NATO Defense Chiefs Discuss Ongoing Ops, Way Ahead for Alliance

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

BRUSSELS, Belgium, Nov. 16, 2006 – With NATO expanding its focus beyond its traditional Euro-Atlantic boundaries and into new missions such as those in Afghanistan, exactly how far can and should the alliance extend its reach?

That’s among the issues Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his fellow NATO defense chiefs discussed at NATO headquarters here yesterday during the autumn session of the NATO Military Committee.

Canadian Air Force Gen. Ray Henault, the committee chairman, opened the two-day session emphasizing the need to focus on current operations “and the ways and means to build on our ability to sustain these over the long term.”

The two days of talks, which continue today, offer NATO defense chiefs an opportunity to talk about NATO operations and shape key military strategies before the high-level Riga Summit in Latvia later this month.

"Our intent is to bring forward to the political authorities of the alliance, consensus-based military advice on a wide range of issues, including the development of capabilities and initiatives in time for the deliberations at the Riga Summit," Henault said.

Those considerations are critical, Pace told American Forces Press Service, in light of NATO’s current missions, from its International Security Assistance Force role in Afghanistan to its peacekeeping role with the Kosovo Force, and its need to be ready to respond to other demands, as needed.

“You want to make sure you have the capacity -- even if you are doing good work in Kosovo and you are doing good work in Afghanistan — that you are able to, as we did last year, to have NATO help with relief in Pakistan, or those kinds of things,” Pace said.

Determining NATO’s capabilities will ensure its leadership “has some fundamental understanding, when the unexpected happens, of what kinds of response they can expect to get from their NATO forces,” the chairman said.

Toward that end, the defense chiefs addressed a variety of other NATO issues, including efforts to:

-- Bring the NATO Response Force to “fully operational and capable” status;

-- Beef up NATO’s command and control elements to ensure NATO forces can respond immediately to a contingency;

-- Improve coordination among special operations forces throughout NATO;

-- Forge closer relationships with non-member countries;

-- Increase capability and interoperability among NATO members, partners and allies; and

-- Ensure NATO’s ability to generate and sustain forces to meet its current and future commitments.

“In a very short span of time, we’re looking at the totality of issues that affect all members of the alliance,” Canadian Col. Brett Boudreau, spokesman for the Military Committee, told American Forces Press Service.

The meetings here also offer a forum for the NATO defense chiefs to interact with military leaders from Partnership for Peace nations and other NATO partners, seven Mediterranean Dialogue countries, and Ukraine and Russia.

Discussions here will help the alliance members make final preparations for the Riga Summit that Pace said offers “a chance for heads of state for all the NATO countries to forge the way ahead for NATO for the next couple of years.”

NATO’s biannual summits provide a benchmark for NATO members to work toward in advancing the alliance’s efforts, he said.

“One of the real benefits of getting ready for the summit is getting ready for the summit,” Pace said. “Anytime the boss is going to meet, everybody who works for him gets everyone pretty well focused about getting the homework done. That, in and of itself, is very healthy for NATO.”

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Gen. Peter Pace, USMC

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