The Cable

Clinton and Rasmussen on the future of NATO

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.

AFP/Getty Images

The Cable

Briefing Skipper: Sudan, North Korea, Bosworth, Iran, Niger

In which we scour the transcript of the State Department's daily presser so you don't have to. Here are the highlights of Monday's briefing by spokesman P.J. Crowley:

  • The State Department welcomes the announced framework agreement between the government of Sudan and the Darfuri rebel Justice and Equality Movement, or JEM. "The agreed cease-fire between the government of Sudan and JEM is an important first step towards reducing violence in Darfur, and comes on the heels of important new agreements between the governments of Chad and Sudan to reduce tensions along their shared border," Crowley said. Special Envoy Scott Gration is in Doha with the UN-AU mediation team now.
  • Ambassadors Steve Bosworth and and Special Envoy Sung Kim will start a visit Tuesday to Beijing, Soeul, and Tokyo to consult with partners about the stalled Six Party Talks over North Korea's nuclear program.Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will host Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung Hwan here at the State Department on Friday. "We are looking for a signal from North Korea, and we're still waiting for that signal," said Crowley.
  • Special Representative Richard Holbrooke is on his way to Germany after completing meetings in several countries including Georgia and Kazakhstan. In Georgia he met with President Mikheil Saakashvili and reviewed Georgia's troops readying for Afghanistan, called the "Holbrooke Brigade." In Kazakhstan he met with Prime Minister Karim Masimov and State Secretary Foreign Minister Kanat Saudabayev.
  • On Iran, Crowley said that the Tehran research reactor proposal is "still on the table," but warned that Iran's latest announcement that it plans to build more enrichment sites inside mountains "adds to the questions rather than resolves the questions that the international community has.'
  • The unfortunate deaths of dozens of Afghan civilians in an airstrike does not conflict with the policy of minimizing the impact of the new offensive on Afghan populations, Crowley said. 'In conflict, mistakes are made, or there are unfortunate, you know -- you know, impacts that could not have been anticipated."
  • No direct comment on the collapse of the Dutch government over disagreements about their Afghanistan deployment.
  • The State Department is calling for a speedy return of civilian rule in Niger following last week's coup. "We support the efforts of ECOWAS, the African Union and the United Nations, you know, to promote Niger's speedy return to the rule of law, and together we will hold Niger to those public pledges," he said