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Military Chiefs Look to NATO’s Future

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT, Jan. 23, 2014 – The NATO chiefs of defense “talked a little bit about today, a little bit about tomorrow, and a little bit about 10 years from now,” the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said as he returned to Washington today from alliance meetings in Brussels.

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey took advantage of the 170th Chiefs of Defense Meeting to not only address NATO issues, but to strengthen military-to-military relations with other nations.

The chairman’s first engagement in Brussels was a meeting with his Russian counterpart Gen. Valery V. Gerasimov. Dempsey said the session was very positive and constructive, describing U.S.- Russian relations as important “not just because of the issues that are apparent to us, but the ones that are not yet apparent,” he said. The alliance’s possible future in Afghanistan after its current mission ends this year was also discussed. At the NATO meeting itself, he said, “We reminded ourselves that while the discussions are going on about our 2015 presence, we still have some tasks at hand to accomplish,” he said.

The chiefs looked at ways to increase the pace of development of the Afghan national security forces – focusing on how to improve the institutions that build and manage them. And, they discussed what can be done to help Afghans hold a credible, transparent and fair presidential election in April.

Most of the NATO support will be peripheral, as the Afghans have the lion’s share of conducting the vote. The United States will provide some logistical support and transportation for election observers.

The chiefs also discussed how they can “preserve our options so when the political decision is made on 2015 and beyond, we’ll have a pretty clear understanding of how we will have to shift to accomplish it.”

The other main outcome of the meeting was an increased awareness of the threats and risks building on the alliance’s southern flank. The United States has long spoken about transnational threats emanating from North Africa and the Middle East. Terrorist organizations take advantage of weak governments or ungoverned spaces and use them as safe havens, Dempsey said. Al-Qaida in the Islamic Mahgreb is one of these groups and there are others.

“I am encouraged that the alliance is beginning to understand some of the risks that are building on its southern flank,” the chairman said. “Now we have reached the point of entering into conversations about what as an alliance we might do about it.”

The chiefs spoke about NATO’s nascent cyber defense capability. “It’s mostly all national level,” he said. “We’re trying to find ways to link it together to make ourselves more capable in the cyber dimension.”

The meeting in Brussels will be followed by a NATO defense ministers’ meeting next month, which will help set up a NATO Summit that will be hosted by the United Kingdom later this year.