For the first time in over a decade, all the foreign and defense ministers of NATO member states convened in Brussels Thursday to discuss plans to reshape the military alliance - including major budget cuts.
Germany has expressed its approval for an anti-missile system proposed by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at a summit of member countries' defense and foreign ministers.
The 28-nation military alliance gathered Thursday in Brussels to discuss its new 10-year strategy designed to usher in a new era with a new orientation. Top of the agenda was a nuclear-missile shield to protect Europe and North America.
"We believe that, on substance, the missile shield is a good idea," German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg told reporters ahead of the meeting.
Under discussion is a proposal by Rasmussen and United States Defense Secretary Robert Gates to raise 200 million euros ($278.8 million) over the coming decade to finance an integration of existing missile defense capabilities with missile interceptors the US plans to install in Europe.
Germany pushes disarmament
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told reporters that NATO wanted to include Russia in the missile-defense project, which he called a “crucial breakthrough.“
"Our impression is that the signs point to pragmatism and an easing of tension," he added.
Westerwelle was also pleased to see that Rasmussen's plan for NATO's future stressed nuclear disarmament, which he called a "great breakthrough" - although the plan did not concretely respond to the minister's recent proposal to do away with the 10 to 20 nuclear warheads remaining in Germany.
Meanwhile at the summit, Guttenberg urged a skeptical France to get on the bandwagon for disarmament, saying, "these components of disarmament, this momentum ... is of benefit."
Germany's ruling coalition committed last November to the withdrawal of US nuclear weapons from German territory, and, along with a handful of other EU countries, called for a debate about their future in Europe.
Attention also turned to the nuclear weapons stationed with US and allied air forces in Germany after Washington and Moscow reached a deal to reduce the number of deployed long-range, "strategic" nuclear warheads.
The German government has also said it wants to see all NATO missions require the approval of the United Nations.
NATO to make cuts
While there are still no concrete figures on how much a new missile shield will cost NATO countries, defense ministers approved plans Thursday to slash NATO's command and administrative structure in order to save funds.
Ministers approved Rasmussen's proposal to cut the military alliance's staff from some 13,000 to under 9,000 and dismantle at least four of its 11 command bases.
Member countries will not begin debates until 2011 on who must give up their prestigious bases.
Secret new strategies
Efforts have been made to keep NATO's new strategy secret, although the basic tenets of the plan are well known. It is intended to be passed at a NATO summit to be held in the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, in November.
Aside from modernizing weapons defense, the plan is also expected to urge NATO nations to increase cooperation with non-NATO member states, such as Japan, India, China and Australia.
The alliance's secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said ahead of the summit that the new plan was primarily aimed at making sure NATO remained "the most successful alliance in history."
Rasmussen said that following the Cold War and the ensuing transition to a post-Soviet world, the time had come to remodel the international union - to create NATO 3.0.
"An alliance which can defend the 900 million citizens of NATO countries against the threats we face today and will face in the coming decade," he said.
The new strategy foresees a multitude of new threats coming from all directions, including terrorist attacks on national resources and supply channels, and from so-called rogue states such as Iran.
Rasmussen also singled out cyber attacks as a cause for concern, but said any invocation of NATO's well-known Article 5 - which, if activated, classifies an attack on one NATO member an attack on all NATO members - would be considered on a case-by-case basis.
"Neither cyber attacks, nor any other kind of attacks, could be described as a clear Article 5 case in advance," Rasmussen said. "There is what I would call a constructive ambiguity, and that's exactly the strength of Article 5, that potential aggressors never know when the alliance will invoke Article 5."
The Sept.11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States marked the first occasion on which Article 5 was invoked.
Author: Darren Mara, Andreas Reuter, David Levitz
Editor: Chuck Penfold