NATO to deliberate 21st century fighting machine

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NATO foreign and defence ministers huddle Thursday to shape the alliance's strategy for the next decade but Germany and France are at odds over the vision for missile defence and nuclear weapons.

The ministers will hold a rare joint meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels to discuss a draft of the alliance's new "strategic concept" at a time it is fighting in Afghanistan and facing budget cuts among its members.

The mission statement is to be endorsed by NATO leaders at a summit in Lisbon on November 19-20 and replace an 11-year-old document written in another era -- two years before Al-Qaeda struck New York and Washington in 2001.

"My firm intent is that the Lisbon summit will put in place an alliance that is more modern, more efficient and better able to work with our partners around the globe," said NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

"The new strategic concept must reconfirm NATO's core task -- territorial defence -- but modernise how we do it, including cyber defence and missile defence," Rasmussen told a news conference on Monday.

The blueprint, drafted by Rasmussen, is around 10 pages long, according to diplomats. It has not been made public but it is expected to touch on 21st century threats, from cyber assaults to missile attacks and global terrorism.

"It is a short, concrete, balanced and a readable document," a senior US official said.

Cyber and missile defences are "critical capabilities" for NATO to develop, the official said.

The threat posed by computer attacks came into full light in 2007 when a cyber strike against Estonia, a NATO member, cost the Baltic state between 19 and 28 million euros.

Building a missile shield is a top priority amid concerns about the intentions of Iran and North Korea.

"We would like NATO to take a decision on missile defence first," the US official said.

France and Germany have differed on atomic weapons, however, as German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle wants the anti-missile system to substitute nuclear deterrence while Paris sees them as complementary, diplomats say.

"The Germans wanted the strategic concept to say that NATO commit to nuclear disarmament," a diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

Rasmussen will meet with French President Nicolas Sarzkozy in Paris on Friday to ease the concerns of the nuclear-armed nation, diplomats said.

The NATO chief insisted on Monday that "missile defence is not a substitute for nuclear deterrence" and would instead complement each other.

Last week, he said the strategic concept would enshrine US President Barack Obama's goal of a nuclear-free world but at the same time insist on the need to keep nuclear deterrence while other nations keep such bombs.

Despite some disagreements, the senior US official said the final version of the strategic concept "will not diverge that much from the draft."

Rasmussen said NATO faces a "clear threat" from missiles as more than 30 countries possess or are acquiring ballistic missiles.

"Even in this time of budgetary restrictions, we can allow ourselves this kind of spending," he said, reiterating that a missile shield for Europe would cost less than 200 million euros over 10 years.

Russia has been suspicious about US plans to mount a missile shield for Europe, even though the alliance insists that the system would provide a defence against rogue states.

Rasmussen, who wants Russia to cooperate in any missile shield plan, has invited the former Cold War foe to hold a summit with NATO leaders in Lisbon, but Moscow has yet to respond.

Rasmussen also urged the alliance to "engage more actively" with partner countries around the world such as Australia, Japan and South Korea.

© 2010 AFP

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