November 29th, 2006 09:30 EST
NATO Members Reach Consensus on Current Operations, Future Goals
Riga, Latvia -- NATO’s 26 heads of state strengthened their commitment to Afghanistan and expressed their hope to invite three Balkans nations to join the military alliance in 2008. They also extended immediate invitations to three other Balkans nations to join the Partnership for Peace program.
“Contributing to peace and stability is NATO’s key priority,” NATO leaders said November 29 in their Riga Summit Declaration after two days of meetings in Latvia’s historic capital.
The Riga Declaration represents the consensus of the leaders of member nations. Shortly after the meeting, President Bush departed Riga for talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Amman, Jordan. (See related article.)
Afghanistan “is winnable; it is being won, but not yet won,” NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer of the Netherlands told reporters November 29.
The NATO leaders agreed to remove many of the national restrictions -- known as “caveats” -- imposed by home countries on their deployed troops. The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force includes 32,000 troops from 37 nations. The latest agreement to remove national restrictions means about 26,000 of the 32,000 ISAF forces can be moved freely within Afghanistan by NATO commanders, de Hoop Scheffer said. (See related article.)
The NATO leaders also welcomed a proposal to create a “Contact Group” of donor nations to promote and coordinate Afghanistan’s reconstruction and development. The Contact Group concept has been used successfully in the Balkans.
Other highlights of the Riga Summit Declaration addressed:
• Membership -- NATO leaders welcomed efforts by Albania, Croatia and Macedonia to prepare for possible NATO membership. Alliance leaders said they intend to offer membership invitations to those countries at the next NATO Summit in 2008, if the countries meet NATO standards and can contribute to Euro-Atlantic security and stability.
• Georgia and Ukraine -- Georgia also seeks NATO membership, but NATO leaders said they plan to continue “intensified dialogues” with the Caucasus nation. NATO leaders encouraged Georgia to continue its reform processes. Latvia’s President Vaira Vike-Freiberga told reporters after the summit that 2008 “will be too early for Georgia” to be offered membership. NATO leaders said they also will continue intensified dialogues with Ukraine, which is not actively seeking NATO membership but which continues to work closely with the alliance.
• Partners for Peace -- NATO formally invited Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia to join the Partnership for Peace, which allows nonmember nations to cooperate formally with NATO. Alliance leaders said they expect Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina to cooperate fully with International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. In the past, Serbia and Bosnia have been blocked from Partnership for Peace status because indicted war-crimes suspects from the 1992-1995 Bosnian war remain at large and have been given refuge in Serb communities in the past.
• Kosovo -- Alliance leaders said that “NATO will remain ready to respond quickly to any threats to the safe and secure environment.” A U.N.-negotiated settlement to Kosovo’s future status is expected as early as January 2007. The NATO-led Kosovo Force provides security for Kosovo, which is a U.N.-administered province of Serbia whose ethnic Albanian majority seeks independence.
• Global partnerships -- Some NATO allies sought a formal category of partnership to recognize nonmember nations who share NATO values, have fully capable militaries, and work closely with the alliance. Leaders at the Riga Summit did not create a new category, but did reaffirm that NATO partnerships are essential and “have an enduring value.”
• Middle East training initiatives -- Alliance leaders have agreed to an “evolutionary and phased approach” to training troops from Middle Eastern nations that work as partners with NATO through its Mediterranean Dialogue and Istanbul Cooperation Initiative programs. Alliance leaders at Riga said they are launching a NATO Training Cooperation Initiative that will allow troops of partners from the broader Middle East to attend existing NATO schools.
• NATO Response Force -- Alliance leaders declared the NATO Response Force (NRF) to be fully operational. The NRF includes a rotating group of approximately 25,000 Europe-based troops who can be deployed on five days’ notice and sustain itself in the field for 30 days. The force has been in development since 2003 and is intended to give NATO a rapid-response capability as well as act as a catalyst for developing lighter, more deployable forces throughout NATO.
• Transformation -- A major goal of the Riga Summit was “transformation” initiatives to help the alliance to perform the missions of the 21st century more effectively. At Riga, NATO leaders endorsed a comprehensive political guidance that provides a strategic blueprint for priorities over the next 10 to 15 years.
The next NATO Summit has been scheduled tentatively for the spring of 2008, but alliance leaders have not yet agreed on a country to host the meeting.
For more information on U.S. policy, see The United States and NATO.
(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)