In a speech Monday at Washington's Ritz-Carlton hotel, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defended NATO's shift from a defensive alliance aimed at countering the Soviet Union to a forward-deployed multilateral force carrying out counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan. NATO's new "strategic concept," a document representing the consensus view of where the alliance is headed and slated for agreement in late 2010, is the subject of a conference she and the organization's secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, are attending in Washington this week.
"For too long, our alliance has been hamstrung by those who argue that NATO is an exclusively military organization and oppose attempts to develop -- or in some cases even to discuss -- the alliance's capacity to take on civilian responsibilities," she said in her speech, which was delivered under the auspices of the Atlantic Council. "Our common experience in Afghanistan has shown that the alliance cannot accomplish its missions using purely military tools. If we are going to succeed in counterinsurgency warfare, NATO must continue developing mechanisms to draw on the existing security-oriented civilian capacities of its member states."
In his own address at Georgetown University Monday, Rasmussen described the transatlantic alliance as "an essential part of this country's security for a long time to come."
In response to questions from The Cable following his speech, Rasmussen also praised the ongoing NATO offensive in Afghanistan and defended the contributions of NATO allies in the wake of the recent collapse of the Dutch government, which was related to growing public concerns over that country's Afghanistan deployment. That is an isolated incident, in Rasmussen's view.
"I don't think the situation in the Netherlands will have an impact on the decision making in other allied nations," he said.
The NATO commitment of almost 10,000 new troops to complement the American troop surge in Afghanistan will be fulfilled by the end of 2010, Rasmussen said. NATO countries are also adjusting the "caveats" under which some of them operate in order to allow them to take a more active and equal role in the fight, he said.
Rasmussen also commented briefly on the French sale of the Mistral amphibious assault ship to Russia, saying the sale is not a NATO issue.
"This is not NATO business, this is a bilateral question between France and Russia," he said, "So as such, NATO is not engaged in this."
As the first major arms sale from a NATO country to Russia, many feel the deal could set a dangerous precedent and further tip the balance of military might between Russia and Georgia. The Georgians, as well as the Baltic states, have raised repeated objections.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates conveyed U.S. concerns about the deal when traveling in Paris this month.
GOP senate aides have warned that Congress could resist an exemption for France in the Iran sanctions legislation currently moving on Capitol Hill, but the State Department has said it will resist any attempts to join the two issues.
"I take it for granted that the sale of this equipment takes place in full accordance with international rules and regulations," Rasmussen said, although many argue that the sale violates the Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls or the European Union Code of Conduct for Arms Exports.
"France has stated that this sale of military equipment will not be accompanied by the transfer of sensitive technology to Russia," he added, although the details of what technologies the sale will include have not been announced.
"I take it for granted that Russia ... will not use this equipment against any of its neighbors or any NATO ally," Rasmussen said. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, for one, has made clear he will not foreswear using the Mistral wherever his government pleases.