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NATO Seeks More Nimble Ways to Meet Challenges

By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 13, 2010 – With Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in Brussels to attend the foreign and defense ministers’ informal meetings there tomorrow, NATO policy director Jim Townsend Jr. says the alliance is seeking more nimble ways to confront the unexpected challenges of the future.

“Ten years ago as we were looking at NATO and thinking about where [it] was going, we wouldn't have thought that NATO would be off the coast of Somalia trying to deal with the piracy problem there,” Townsend, deputy assistant secretary of defense for European and NATO policy, said yesterday at the State Department’s Foreign Press Center here.

“Whether it's cyber, whether it's [weapons of mass destruction] -- whatever it might be -- we have to be ready in the alliance to handle these new threats,” he said. “That's what the ministerial is going to do Thursday. That's what the summit's going to do.”

The next NATO Summit meeting is scheduled for Nov. 19-20 in Lisbon, Portugal. On the summit’s agenda, Townsend said, is NATO’s vision of its future structure -- which involves a proposed 10-year Strategic Concept, missile defense, and NATO’s reform efforts toward a more affordable and efficient alliance.

The last update of the strategic concept was in 1999, Townsend said.

The Oct. 14 Brussels ministerial is the first conference in several years during which foreign and defense ministers will meet separately and then together, “sitting side by side at the big NATO table, talking about the Strategic Concept and other issues that we know we need to work on as we run up toward the Lisbon summit,” he said.

In preparation for the ministerial and the summit, an initiative called the Lisbon Critical Capabilities Commitment lists the top 10 priority military capabilities “already in the pipeline for NATO to acquire using common funds that we needed to carry forward and fund completely and take over into implementation,” Townsend said.

Such military capabilities include helicopters, strategic lift, missile defense, cyber security, Afghanistan, countering improvised explosive devices and others, he added.

“As we look at alliance capabilities and at what individual nations bring to the alliance, keeping up with what NATO has requested these nations provide is the key point, it’s not keeping parity with the United States,” Townsend said.

“We are looking for nations to keep up defense spending; we've set a target of 2 percent. I think nations are having a difficult time in this economic situation to meet this 2 percent of GDP [gross domestic product] to be spent on defense,” he added. “We've asked nations to try to come together and make up some of the gaps.”


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Robert M. Gates
James J. Townsend Jr.

Related Sites:
Special Report: Travels with Gates

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Lisbon Summit Will Chart NATO’s 21st Century Course


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