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NATO Solidarity Draws Praise From U.S., British Defense Chiefs

By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service

TAORMINA, Italy, Feb. 10, 2006 – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and British Defense Minister John Reid had high praise for the way NATO nations are working together in remarks here last night.

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Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld (right) greets British Defense Minister John Reid prior to a bilateral meeting in Taormina, Sicily, at the NATO Ministerials Conference on Feb. 9. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley, USN

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The two defense leaders spoke with reporters after their bilateral session. They're here in the shadow of Mount Etna on Sicily's east coast for an informal meeting of NATO defense ministers that concludes today.

Reid said he is "heartened and delighted at the solidarity of NATO's work in Afghanistan."

"It's a difficult but hugely important operation for NATO in Afghanistan," he said. "We all recall that that is where the terrorists prepared, planned, launched the biggest terrorist strike in history - thousands of innocent people died. And our resolve that that should never happen again is why we're there."

Reid said that while solidarity already was evident in the alliance, the upcoming expansion of NATO's International Security Assistance Force into Afghanistan's southern provinces further underscores the member nations' commitment. "The British, Dutch, Canadians, Danes, Estonians, and I hope others will be joining us there. That response was, I think, for those who wanted to see NATO display its mutual solidarity."

It's especially important, the British defense minister said, for NATO's European members to play an active role in the alliance's effectiveness in the fight against terrorism.

"If we're going to make sure that NATO is a true force for good in the world," he said, "then we Europeans need to step up to the mark and make sure that we are contributing not only toward the discussions in NATO - which are very important - but also the resources ... and the resolution and will to deploy them in the areas of difficulty. And I believe that if we do that, individually and collectively as European nations, then we will form a long and stable partnership with NATO."

Rumsfeld emphasized NATO's evolution from a defensive alliance to an expeditionary one. "NATO historically had been defending the NATO treaty area, period. And there were great debates back in the '70s and '80s about even the thought that NATO would do something else outside of the NATO treaty area."

NATO helped the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Rumsfeld said, and the alliance since has been active is Bosnia and Kosovo. "And the fact that they have undertaken a significant responsibility in Afghanistan, not only out of the NATO treaty area, but out of Europe - well out of Europe - is a significant adjustment and change in how the NATO alliance is functioning."

He noted ISAF started its Afghanistan mission in the north, followed by the west and soon in the south, with long-term plans seeing ISAF expanding to the country's eastern provinces. "It says a lot about the NATO alliance and the nature of the 26 nations that comprise that alliance, and also the strength that comes to the alliance from the Partnership for Peace nations that participate with us."

The end of the Cold War and the current state of the world necessitated NATO's transformation, the secretary said. "There's a reason that NATO is involved in Afghanistan," he said. "This is the 21st century. The problems are not specifically nation-state problems; they're not specifically even regional problems. In many instances, they're global problems. And it requires an alliance like NATO to evolve and adjust and face the challenges that exist in this new century."

As stakeholders in what he called "the international global system," Rumsfeld added, NATO nations have the obligation to contribute to the system's strength and the security that makes it all possible.

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