CHICAGO, May 20, 2012 - During its first session at the 25th NATO Summit here today, the alliance's senior governing body declared operational the missile defense system it endorsed at its November 2010 summit in Lisbon, Portugal, NATO's secretary general said.
During a news conference following the North Atlantic Council session, Anders Fogh Rasmussen characterized the accomplishment as true trans-Atlantic teamwork.
"We call this an interim capability, ... the first step toward our long-term goal of providing full coverage and protection for all NATO European populations, territory and forces," Rasmussen said.
The secretary general described the culture of cooperation in NATO as "smart defense," in which countries work together to develop capabilities they could not develop on their own.
"We already have some good examples," he said, noting that NATO allies share the job of patrolling airspace in the Balkan states.
"This means our Baltic allies can focus their resources in other critical areas, such as deployable forces for Afghanistan," he said. "This is why we have agreed that NATO will provide continuous air policing for the Baltic states."
The council also agreed today to acquire an alliance ground surveillance capability that uses unarmed drones to provide crucial intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information to military commanders who must monitor developing situations and identify potential threats.
"During our operation to protect the people of Libya, we learned how important it is to have the best possible intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance." Rasmussen said. "So we realized that we need more of this capability. We are now filling that gap."
According to a White House fact sheet, a group of 14 allies has agreed to acquire five unmanned aerial vehicles and their command-and-control ground stations. Participating allies are Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the United States.
NATO will operate and maintain the system on behalf of the alliance, with common funding from all 28 allies, the fact sheet said.
The council also approved a package of more than 20 multinational projects to provide capabilities at an affordable price for NATO, the secretary general said. These include a project among several allies to jointly acquire remote-controlled robots that can clear deadly roadside bombs, he said. Another group of allies will pool their maritime patrol aircraft to efficiently provide more awareness of activities on the sea.
"Within NATO we have also agreed that our forces will step up exercises, training and education, including with our partners, so they can preserve the skills they've mastered in operations," Rasmussen added.
At the 2010 Lisbon summit, NATO leaders adopted a strategic concept that committed NATO to meeting security challenges of the 21st century, from terrorism to ballistic missile and cyber attacks to nuclear proliferation, White House officials said.
At this summit, NATO's leadership outlined a vision of how NATO will maintain the capabilities it needs. A new document titled "NATO Forces 2020" helps to set NATO's priorities for investing in capabilities over the next decade.
The framework calls for realistic efforts to maintain and develop multinational capabilities despite defense budget cuts in the United States and Europe, White House officials said. It also institutionalizes lessons learned from recent and current operations, ensures that NATO can maintain interoperability among allies and with partners, and identifies critical capabilities gaps.
"Our goal," the secretary general said, is ... an alliance that deals with the economic challenges of today and is prepared for the security challenges of the future."