NATO's summit on Friday and Saturday in Lisbon looks set toshake the alliance to its foundations. For the first time since NATO went into Afghanistan in 2003, the Afghan mission is not expected to dominate, as leaders look beyondthe alliance's current problems to sketch out its future shape.
"This will be one of the most important summits in NATO history.The summit will put in place an alliance that is more effective, moreengaged and more efficient," NATO Secretary General Anders FoghRasmussen told journalists on Monday. The leaders of NATO's 28 nations are to kick off the summiton Friday afternoon by finalizing a new "strategic concept" to steer NATO's military planning through the next decade.
The current blueprint dates back to 1999, when Kosovo was NATO'sworst security problem and al-Qaeda, cyber warfare and piracy barely registered as threats. Details of the new concept are a closely-guarded secret, but inearlier speeches Rasmussen has stressed the need for NATO to improveits cyber-defences, work better with civilian actors such as the European Union, make its armies more capable of fighting away fromhome and develop partnerships with powers such as China and India. "NATO will reach out to connect with our partners around the globe, both countries and organizations," he said on Monday.
However, diplomats say that Turkey opposes too much of arapprochement with the EU until its conflict with Cyprus is solved. Leaders are also expected to call for the creation in Europe of ananti-ballistic-missile system, based largely on US technology, butalso incorporating shorter-range systems in states such as Germany. According to diplomats, the US initially wanted the summit to name Iran as the main missile threat, but dropped that demand in the face of Turkish opposition.
Leaders are further expected to invite Russia to "explore thepossibilities" of linking its own anti-missile system to the NATO one, in a bid to prove that the system is not aimed at Russia. That "would be a very promising decision which would help buildconfidence and have a significant positive impact on security inEurope," said Rasmussen.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is set to join NATO leaders fora special NATO-Russia summit on Saturday afternoon. He is expected toagree to talks on possible missile-defence cooperation and to offermore support to NATO's Afghan mission.
On Saturday morning, meanwhile, NATO leaders are set to be joinedby the leaders of 19 other nations which have troops in the NATO-ledInternational Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, aswell as leaders of the EU, United Nations, the World Bank and Japan. That meeting is expected to give the green light for NATO troopsto start pulling out of the front line and handing over to Afghan forces. The first handovers are expected in the first half of 2011,with the last ones expected by the end of 2014. NATO nations are simultaneously expected to promise to keepsupporting the Afghan government even after the combat mission ends.
Finally, NATO leaders are expected to approve radical cuts to thealliance's system of military headquarters. NATO currently has 11HQs, but the summit is due to call for those to be cut to seven. However, it is not due to say which bases should close. The issueis expected to trigger fierce infighting between NATO states, but nodecisions are expected until June.