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NATO

NATO declares first stage of missile shield operational

The 28 NATO allies have moved the first stage of their joint missile shield into place over Russian objections. The allies have also unveiled plans to pool their resources in order to make up for defense budget cuts.

The NATO allies on Sunday announced that the first stage of a European missile defense shield had become operational, despite Russian objections to the project and threats of retaliatory steps. 

US President Barack Obama declared during the Western military alliance's summit meeting in Chicago that the missile shield had an "interim capability." The operational first stage of the shield consists of a radar facility in Turkey and US ships with anti-missile interceptors in the Mediterranean Sea. The command and control center is located in Ramstein, Germany.

No end to conflict over missile shield

The missile defense shield is scheduled to be fully operational by 2020, with SM-3 missile facilities to be stationed in Poland and Romania. Russia has long objected to the NATO project, arguing that the missile shield would undermine its nuclear deterrent.

'A NATO decision'

Moscow has threatened in the past to retaliate by stationing Iskander missiles in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, which borders NATO members Poland and Lithuania. The US and NATO maintains that the system is designed to defend against missiles from Iran.

During its 2010 summit in Lisbon, the alliance offered Russia cooperation on the missile defense shield. The two sides have been unable to reach an agreement since then, with NATO rejecting Moscow's calls for joint control of the system and legal guarantees that it won't be aimed at Russia.

"We have invited Russia to cooperate on missile defense and this invitation still stands," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told a news conference.

"We continue our dialogue with Russia, and I hope that at a certain stage Russia will realize that it is in our common interest to cooperate on missile defense," Rasmussen said, while adding that the shield "cannot be blocked by Russia, it's a NATO decision."

Russian President Vladimir Putin opted not to attend the NATO summit, sending instead a lower-level delegation to represent Moscow's interests. Putin also skipped the G8 summit at Camp David over the weekend, with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev attending in his stead.

'Smart defense'

The missile shield is one of NATO's flagship projects, part of a new strategic concept called "smart defense," which is supposed to help compensate for defense cuts during a period of "acute financial crisis," according to the alliance's leaders. 

The allies agreed to more than 20 new multinational projects aimed at pooling resources, including the joint management of precision-guided bombs and the development of remotely controlled robots to clear roadside bombs.

"Together, we will keep NATO capable of responding to the security challenges of tomorrow, because no country, no continent can deal with them alone," Rasmussen told the leaders ahead of the discussion about budget cuts. "We can find common solutions to common problems."

Afghanistan withdrawal plans

On Monday, the alliance is expected to focus more directly on Afghanistan, with French President Francois Hollande's campaign promise to withdraw his nation's 3,500 troops a year ahead of schedule raising concern among some allies.

The commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), US General John Allen, told reporters that the allies "had the capacity to ensure that there is no degradation in security" despite France's hastened timetable for withdrawal.

President Obama, meanwhile, said that the world backed plans to end the decade-long Afghan war by 2014.

"We're confident that we're on the right track, and what this NATO summit reflects is that the world is behind the strategy we've laid out," the president said.

slk/pfd (AFP, dpa) 

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