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Published:November 21st, 2006 14:09 EST
NATO Leaders To Discuss Global Missions at Riga Summit

NATO Leaders To Discuss Global Missions at Riga Summit

By SOP newswire

Washington -- The United States has made great efforts to strengthen diplomatic relations with Europe and is ready to work alongside European governments to outline a global agenda at the upcoming NATO Summit, a top U.S. diplomat says.

“We think our partnership with Europe now is fully restored and strengthened,” R. Nicholas Burns, under secretary of state for political affairs, told reporters November 21.  The summit will be held November 28-29 in Riga, Latvia.

Burns acknowledged “difficult” disagreements with some European governments over U.S. policy toward Iraq in 2002 and 2003. But in February 2005 and a month into his second term, President Bush visited the European Union and NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, where he placed renewed emphasis on trans-Atlantic ties.

“[T]he United States has worked very, very hard to rebuild those bridges across the Atlantic and to sustain our ties with Europe, and we think we’ve been successful,” Burns said. He added that the scope of issues in trans-Atlantic relations has changed. “Our agenda with Europe is now a global agenda” that focuses on working as partners on long-standing problems in the Middle East, in South and East Asia, in Africa and in Latin America, Burns said.

Bush is among the 26 NATO heads of state scheduled to discuss cooperation on a broad range of regional and world issues. He will be accompanied by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. (See related article.)

Briefing reporters at the State Department, Burns outlined major topics for the Riga Summit. These include:

• Afghanistan, which Burns described as “the No. 1 issue” for NATO. About 32,000 NATO troops are deployed to Afghanistan, operating 25 provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs), which are combined military and civilian units that provide security and also bring development assistance. ”Contrary to some of the conventional wisdom,” Burns said, NATO appears to be gaining the military advantage against anti-government fighters in the southern provinces of Kandahar, Helmand and Oruzgan. Large numbers of NATO troops deployed into the southern provinces in July and August and “collided” with Taliban and others opposed to the elected government in Kabul, Burns said. Until then, these anti-government fighters had operated largely unopposed. “We stand by the strategy and tactics because they are proving to be successful,” Burns said. When NATO leaders review military operations at the summit, he said, the most pressing concern will be ensuring that nations maintain their willingness to maintain troop strength.

• Narcotics in Afghanistan. Burns said leaders at the summit will discuss how international civil institutions such as the United Nations and European Union can address counternarcotics in Afghanistan, particularly in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, where drug money helps finance anti-government fighters.

• Global partnerships. President Bush plans to propose a global partnership program with five nations -- Australia, Finland, Japan, South Korea and Sweden, Burns said. The three Asian nations do not seek formal NATO membership, Burns added, and the two European nations have a tradition of political neutrality. But all five have worked in the Balkans, in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

• Membership issues. No formal membership invitations are expected to be offered. However, Bush has said he supports a membership invitation for Croatia in the 2008 summit. Albania and Macedonia also are being viewed as possible candidates for membership, Burns said. In addition, Ukraine and Georgia, while not actively seeking membership, have been involved in membership discussions and seek partnership (an affiliated status below that of full membership) with NATO.

• Spending and airlift. The United States will continue urging allies to spend more on military capabilities. Only seven of the 26 NATO members spend more than 3 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) on defense, Burns said. The United States spends 3.7 percent of its GDP on defense, but the majority of allies spend less than 2 percent of GDP on national defense. In particular, NATO forces lack strategic airlift, air-to-air refueling capability and combat service support units, all of which are essential to long-range deployments. For several months, NATO allies have been discussing the possibility of pooling their funds to purchase three or four U.S.-built C-17 cargo jets, which could be used for NATO and national missions. (See related article.)

• Kosovo and flexible deployments. The Kosovo province of Serbia has been administered by the United Nations since 1999. U.N.-sponsored talks have been under way for nearly a year to decide whether Kosovo will become independent or remain a province of Serbia but with a high level of autonomy. A decision is expected as early as January 2007, and Burns said NATO leaders at Riga will discuss how the 15,000 NATO troops in Kosovo will support the international decision. In addition, NATO commanders have been granted flexibility to maneuver NATO forces as needed within Kosovo. Burns said NATO is seeking similar flexibility to maneuver forces in Afghanistan, where many contributing governments have placed geographic or mission “caveats” that make it difficult to reposition troops to respond to emergency.

For more information, see The United States and NATO.

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