NATO ministers review commitments ahead of Afghan pullout

NATO ministers review commitments ahead of Afghan pullout

NATO defence ministers meet today to review the alliance's costly commitments, most notably in Afghanistan, as slowing Western economies seriously undercut defence spending.

Afghanistan is the major talking point, to be taken up tomorrow, officials said, with the alliance soon to start planning for its new training, advice and assistance mission after the 2014 withdrawal of combat troops.

The NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo, whose self-proclaimed independence is disputed by neighbouring Serbia, is less dramatic but also requires discussion as the commitment runs into its 13th year.

Officials yesterday highlighted the impact of the economic slump on defence spending, stressing the need for a common effort to make funds go further and the importance of joint operations and capabilities, as demonstrated in Afghanistan.

"If we wind down our combined operations, what can we do to maintain our inter-operability (which) is both a military requirement and a political one," one official said.

NATO agreed at a Chicago summit in May on a "2020" concept which gives a large role to "Smart Defence," the sharing of resources combined with more coordination.

The issue is fraught, however, as member nations jealously guard sovereignty in the all important matter of defence, though there seems to be little alternative to more burden sharing for all NATO members.

"Economic conditions in many countries have not got any better since Chicago... it is not realistic to think of large increases (in defence spending) at the national level," one official said.

A planned major tie-up between Britain's BAE Systems and EADS, the European aerospace giant, represents a massive pooling of European defence resources but officials said the deal was not on the agenda.

Ministers involved -- British, French, German and US -- would likely take it up separately, they added. BAE Systems have a large part of their business in the United States.

Officials said the Syria conflict will also feature amid mounting fatalities and tensions involving alliance member Turkey but the subject is not on the official agenda.

One senior NATO diplomat described the Syrian shelling which killed five people in a Turkish border village last week as "behaviour totally unacceptable" and stressed Ankara's status as a fully paid-up NATO member.

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