European missile defence plan advanced at NATO summit
By Brian Beary in Washington | Wednesday 23 May 2012
A US-led, NATO-embedded plan to put in place a missile defence system in Europe will have full operational capability by 2018, NATO leaders affirmed at a summit in Chicago, on 20-21 May. The system will “provide real protection for parts of NATO Europe against ballistic missile attack,” said Ivo Daalder, US ambassador to NATO. At the summit’s concluding press conference, US President Barack Obama said that Spain, Romania and Poland would host “key US assets,” the Netherlands would upgrade radars and a radar in Turkey would be placed under NATO control, before adding “we look forward to contributions from other allies”. Despite assurances that the system is aimed at Iran and not Russia, the transatlantic alliance has thus far failed to shake Moscow from firm opposition to the plan.
The summit brought 60 world leaders - and thousands of protesters - to the city, with the EU represented by Commission President José Manuel Barroso, Council President Herman Van Rompuy and High Representative Catherine Ashton. Apart from the missile defence plans, the summit also agreed to extend the Baltic Air Policing Mission, through which NATO allies provide aircraft to police the Baltic states to enable the Baltic nations invest their resources in other operations. In the talks on the winding down of NATO’s mission in Afghanistan, the plans of the new French President, Francois Hollande, to withdraw French combat troops by the end of 2012 featured prominently. Ambassador Daalder stressed that while French combat troops would be gone, other French troops would stay until the conclusion of the NATO mission at the end of 2014. The leaders agreed that Afghan forces would take the lead for combat operations in mid-2013, with NATO limiting itself to a supporting role.
NO SYRIA INTERVENTION
Further enlargement of NATO to take in aspiring European countries Bosnia, Georgia, Macedonia and Montenegro was discussed on the margins of the summit in a meeting chaired by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. While she stressed her commitment “to the open door policy” and briefly summarised where each of the four stood in their membership bids, none were invited to join the alliance. Looking beyond Europe, it was evident that the alliance has no intention of intervening in the bloody, year-long uprising in Syria against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. “There is, at present, no planning going on that’s related to a NATO role in Syria,” Ambassador Daalder said, while adding that the US was providing “non-lethal assistance, such as communications equipment, medical equipment and humanitarian assistance” to the Syrian opposition. Asked in the press conference about contingency plans in case of a Greek exit from the eurozone, President Obama refused to speculate in light of the upcoming Greek elections, but he did say that “Europe recognises this euro project involves more than just a currency”.