THE ROLE of NATO in Afghanistan after 2014, modernisation of the alliance’s military forces, and implementation of a so-called smart defence strategy that will focus all NATO countries on specific military tasks for which they are best suited, were three of the most important policy issues discussed by leaders at a NATO summit held in Chicago on May 21-22. Those attending the summit called it a crucial meeting, as NATO had to make important decisions in the midst of ongoing economic problems in many member countries that have restricted how much they can invest in common defence capabilities.
The NATO summit agreed that Afghan forces will gradually start taking full control of security in their country beginning in 2013, while also deciding that NATO troops could remain in the country until the end of 2014 if Afghan forces require a helping hand.
“With this we are sending a clear signal to the Afghan nation, to Afghanistan’s neighbours and to Afghanistan’s enemies,” said Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO’s Secretary General, as quoted by the SITA newswire.
Slovak President Ivan Gašparovič, who represented Slovakia at the summit along with Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajčák and Defence Minister Martin Glváč, said the Slovak mission in Afghanistan will remain as long as necessary. “Afghanistan is still a priority for Slovakia”, he stated, as quoted by SITA.
About 340 Slovak soldiers are now serving in Afghanistan as part of the ISAF mission, at a cost of about €38 million a year, the TASR newswire wrote. NATO also made a financial commitment of €3.1 billion per year to Afghanistan to help it further develop its security forces after ISAF forces depart in 2014. Two-thirds of this amount will be paid by the United States; Slovakia will contribute about €390,000 annually, according to Gašparovič.
“In my speech I said that Slovakia is prepared to contribute, but we would also like to learn from [Afghan President] Hamid Karzai how prepared the country itself is,” stated Gašparovič, as quoted by TASR.
Lajčák said the main aim of the summit was not only to approve financial aid for Afghanistan but also to show that the allies were ready to continue their participation in stabilising the country and building its army and police even after 2014, TASR wrote.
Europe’s anti-missile shield
The NATO summit also discussed the status of an anti-missile shield for Europe that is currently being built and should be completed by 2020.
SITA wrote that Europe is currently protected from missile attacks by US ships with anti-missile warheads cruising in the Mediterranean Sea, by radar detection units based in Turkey and by a command headquarters in Germany.
Rasmussen stressed that building an anti-missile shield in Europe was not undertaken to threaten Russia, which has regularly criticised the deployment of the shield in Europe.
Russia has reportedly asked for an international agreement that guarantees that Russia is not a target and warned that if such an agreement cannot be reached the country will place missiles in Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea, as its own guarantee.
Russian President Vladimir Putin did not attend the summit despite an invitation to do so, the Sme daily reported. Instead he paid a visit to Belarus, led by Alexander Lukashenko, sometimes called Europe’s last dictator. However, Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev did attend the meeting, Sme wrote.
Gašparovič and Obama meet
The attitude of Russia towards the anti-missile shield in Europe and NATO-Russian relations were the main issues discussed at a meeting between Gašparovič and US President Barack Obama. The Hospodárske Noviny daily wrote that the two presidents agreed that Slovakia can have an important role in mediating discussions between NATO and countries in eastern Europe because of its strategic location.
Gašparovič told the daily that it is important to stress to Russia that the anti-missile shield is no threat to it.
“Although we want as many nuclear weapons as possible to be destroyed or restricted, until there are no longer nuclear weapons in countries outside NATO, the alliance must have them as well,” Gašparovič stated, as quoted by Hospodárske Noviny.
28. May 2012 at 0:00 | By Radka Minarechová with press reports