Panetta Cites Progress, Gaps in NATO Defense

BRUSSELS, Oct. 6, 2011 — Coun­tries of the NATO alliance must work togeth­er to defend com­mon secu­ri­ty inter­ests now and in the future, Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta said today.

At his final press con­fer­ence of the Oct. 5–6 NATO defense min­is­te­r­i­al, Panet­ta sum­ma­rized key issues, praised the alliance and its suc­cess in Afghanistan and Libya, and detailed work that is need­ed to fill gaps in the alliance’s mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ties.

“Secu­ri­ty in the 21st cen­tu­ry will not be achieved by each nation march­ing to its own drum­mer,” the sec­re­tary said.

“The fis­cal aus­ter­i­ty our nations are fac­ing and the pres­sure these bud­get con­straints are putting on defense spend­ing,” he added, “make it all the more essen­tial that we have alliances like NATO.”

Join­ing Panet­ta in NATO Head­quar­ters’ Luns Audi­to­ri­um were Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, com­man­der of NATO’s Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force and U.S. Forces Afghanistan, and Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis, supreme allied com­man­der Europe.

In a morn­ing ses­sion, the sec­re­tary par­tic­i­pat­ed in a meet­ing of ISAF rep­re­sen­ta­tives and those of troop-con­tribut­ing nations to ISAF to dis­cuss the war in Afghanistan.

“Gen­er­al Allen pre­sent­ed a brief­ing of the sit­u­a­tion in Afghanistan to that group, and reviewed the sig­nif­i­cant progress we’ve made in NATO’s largest effort” and the tran­si­tion from the coali­tion to Afghan-led secu­ri­ty there, Panet­ta said.

“It was amaz­ing to look around that room and see all the nations that have con­tributed,” he added. ” … It’s one of the largest coali­tions that has come togeth­er in this kind of effort.”

Allen’s brief­ing, Panet­ta said, made clear that although hard fight­ing lies ahead before all com­bat troops are with­drawn from the coun­try by the end of 2014, last year’s surge in forces has cre­at­ed the right con­di­tions for tran­si­tion.

“And we con­tin­ue to make great strides in devel­op­ing and strength­en­ing the Afghan Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Forces,” the sec­re­tary said.

Panet­ta sent a strong mes­sage to the oth­er min­is­ters, he said, that despite the draw­down, the Unit­ed States will main­tain impor­tant enablers in north­ern and west­ern Afghanistan — includ­ing mede­vac teams, heli­copters and intel­li­gence, sur­veil­lance and recon­nais­sance sup­port — that are need­ed to com­plete the mis­sion.

“In lis­ten­ing to my fel­low min­is­ters, I was struck by their shared com­mit­ment to car­ry for­ward this mis­sion and to build on the sig­nif­i­cant progress we’ve made,” he said.

“There is also con­sen­sus that we are on the right path, we’ve made good progress, [and] there are hard times ahead,” the sec­re­tary added, “but we remain uni­fied in the goal of achiev­ing a sta­ble Afghanistan that can gov­ern and secure itself for the future.”

Anoth­er ses­sion today focused on the effort in Libya, he said, a “remark­able achieve­ment” that is near­ing its con­clu­sion with the fall of the Gad­hafi regime.

After the min­is­te­r­i­al, Panet­ta trav­els to Naples, home of the Allied Joint Forces Com­mand, to meet with NATO com­man­ders involved in Libya oper­a­tions and receive brief­in­gs on that effort.

“While this cam­paign has achieved its goals and demon­strat­ed NATO’s effec­tive­ness,” Panet­ta said, “we all must come away from this expe­ri­ence deter­mined to build on these suc­cess­es and address some of the short­com­ings in mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ty that were exposed.”

A major theme of the min­is­te­r­i­al was the need to ensure that NATO has the mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ties it needs to suc­cess­ful­ly oper­ate in the 21st cen­tu­ry, even in a time of grow­ing bud­get con­straints, the sec­re­tary said.

In advance of the NATO Sum­mit in Chica­go in May, Panet­ta said, the alliance must iden­ti­fy, pro­tect and strength­en the core capa­bil­i­ties NATO needs to meet the kind of mis­sions it is most like­ly to have over the next decade.

An exam­ple of such a capa­bil­i­ty is mis­sile defense, he said.

Yes­ter­day at the min­is­te­r­i­al, Panet­ta and Span­ish Prime Min­is­ter Jos�uis Rodr�ez Zap­a­tero announced that Spain agreed to port four U.S. Aegis ships at Naval Sta­tion Rota to sup­port NATO’s mis­sile defense sys­tem, among oth­er things.

“Along­side impor­tant agree­ments recent­ly con­clud­ed with Roma­nia, Poland and Turkey,” the sec­re­tary said, “this agree­ment rep­re­sents a crit­i­cal step in imple­ment­ing NATO mis­sile defense.”

The Nether­lands agreed on Sept. 29 to upgrade radars on four air defense and com­man­do frigates in sup­port of the mis­sile defense effort.

Anoth­er effort address­es the need to bol­ster NATO capa­bil­i­ties in intel­li­gence, sur­veil­lance and recon­nais­sance, he said.

The Alliance Ground Sur­veil­lance pro­gram, or AGS, will allow NATO troops to use advanced radar sen­sors to per­form per­sis­tent sur­veil­lance over wide areas from high-alti­tude unmanned air plat­forms.

“Although we have not resolved the issue of how to fund infra­struc­ture and oper­a­tions costs, I will leave Brus­sels hope­ful that we can reach an agree­ment to pro­ceed with the pro­gram,” Panet­ta said.

Steps have been put in place, he added, that will help the alliance reach an agree­ment.

“Solv­ing this kind of issue is impor­tant not only so that we can move ahead with AGS, but also because it is a cru­cial sym­bol of alliance coop­er­a­tion,” he said.

Fail­ure to reach agree­ment “could hurt the dri­ve for sim­i­lar cost-effec­tive, multi­na­tion­al approach­es — the kind of smart defense that Sec­re­tary-Gen­er­al Anders Fogh Ras­mussen wants to imple­ment for NATO, he said.

“I appre­ci­ate the will­ing­ness of my fel­low min­is­ters,” the sec­re­tary said, “to fight togeth­er [and] defend our com­mon secu­ri­ty inter­ests.”

Togeth­er, he added, “I believe … we can build a stronger and more effec­tive alliance for the future.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)