Gates Leaves NATO Summit Pleased With Outcomes
By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
ENROUTE TO MUSCAT, Oman, April 4, 2008 Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today that he is pleased with the results of the three-day NATO summit that wrapped up today.
“I think, all in all, it was a very successful summit from the standpoint of the alliance,” Gates told reporters on the flight from Bucharest, Romania, to Muscat, Oman, the next stop on his overseas trip. “I think most of the leaders walked away from the summit feeling like it had been quite a successful summit.”
Gates said the three biggest accomplishments were the alliance’s recommitment to its International Security Assistance Force mission in Afghanistan, the declaration of support for a missile defense system in Europe, and voting to enlarge the alliance and accept up to five more countries.
“In 2006, when the alliance signed up for the ISAF mission, I think the reality is … maybe none of us really understood what we were getting into as an alliance -- that the nature of the mission would change from what (we) anticipated it was likely to be to being much harder and taking much longer,” Gates said.
Now, he said, the alliance has signed on to add forces and continue its work in Afghanistan with its eyes wide open.
“In full knowledge of the toughness of the challenge, the allies unanimously signed to and recommitted to the Afghan mission and -- in the words of (French) President (Nicolas) Sarkozy -- signed up to win,” Gates said. “For my money, that’s a huge deal, given a lot of the challenges the allies have faced, (and) given the difficulties some have at home politically in terms of this mission.”
Gates also said agreement on the wording for an Afghanistan vision statement that details the alliance’s direction there over the next few years was an important result of the summit conference.
Troop commitments also came from the allies. The French announced a battalion’s worth -- about 700 troops -- would take on part of the mission. Gates said other nations also made commitments for troops and special teams. In addition, NATO committed to building an equipped Afghan army to 80,000 troops by 2010.
The United States went into the conference pushing hard for NATO to invite Croatia, Albania and Macedonia to join the alliance. Croatia and Albania were invited. Macedonia was not; Greece objects to Macedonia’s name, believing it represents a claim to the Greek state of the same name. Gates called that a “disappointment,” but said he hopes the country will work out its differences with Greece.
The United States also wanted the alliance’s membership action plan -- a first step toward membership -- extended to the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Ukraine, a measure that did not pass.
“Everybody knew going into the summit that there was strong opposition to providing MAP for Georgia and Ukraine,” Gates said. Some members questioned whether democratic reforms in the two countries have taken root and whether their political systems are stable. Georgia also has unresolved disputes with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, he said. However, NATO did agree on a statement supporting the two countries’ eventual participation in membership action plans and directed further work with the countries.
In December, NATO nations’ foreign ministers will reevaluate their progress and have authority to allow Georgia and Ukraine to start the MAP process.
“I think that, given where some of the parties were when we came into the summit, getting the single declarative statement that Georgia and Ukraine will become members of the alliance was a significant achievement,” Gates said, “because it took it out of the realm of ‘whether’ and put it into the realm of ‘when,’ with a clear implication that ‘when’ is sooner, rather than later.”
In missile defense, getting the alliance to agree to the statement that ballistic missile proliferation is a developing threat to NATO territories and populations was a success, especially in light of many countries’ wariness of what Russia’s reaction would be, Gates said. In its declaration, NATO supported plans for developing a NATO missile defense system that would link with a proposed U.S. system to provide protection from all ranges of ballistic missiles.
Russia has vehemently opposed U.S. plans to develop such a system.
“I think we’ve made it pretty clear to our allies that we’ve really bent over backward to be open and really bring the Russians into this thing and to make them a partner,” Gates said. “And if they didn’t want to be a partner, then to have it completely transparent so they didn’t need to worry about their own security.”
Still, after gaining approval of the enlargement and missile defense measures, Gates said the test would be in whether the United States could still have amenable talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin today during the NATO-Russian Council.
“I think most of us felt that President Putin’s comments today were businesslike,” Gates said. “I wouldn’t say they were particularly conciliatory, but by the same token, they also weren’t aggressive, either.”
Gates will land in Muscat tonight. The country provides a lot of support to the United States, Gates said. It has been 22 years since Gates has traveled here, and four years since a U.S. defense secretary has visited.