LISBON (Reuters) - NATO leaders approved a new mission statement for the Western military alliance Friday, recommitting it to a global military role despite its bruising and demoralizing experience in the war in Afghanistan.
The alliance’s Strategic Concept for the coming decade, approved at a summit in Lisbon, confirms the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s core task of defending its territory and its commitment to collective defense of its 28 members.
At the same time it stresses the need for NATO to ensure it can continue to mount expeditionary operations globally, and reconfirms a commitment to expanding its membership to democratic states that meet the requirements to join.
“Where conflict prevention proves unsuccessful, NATO will be prepared and capable to manage ongoing hostilities,” the document says. “NATO has unique conflict-management capacities, including the unparalleled capability to deploy and sustain robust military forces in the field.”
In spite of the economic crisis, which has prompted deep cuts in defense spending, the document said members must invest sufficient resources to carry out its missions, while making better use of resources through defense coordination, like the naval alliance announced by France and Britain this month.
It also commits NATO to strengthen its defenses against new threats such as cyber attack and also to missile defense, while stressing the need for increased cooperation with Russia, the former Cold War enemy NATO was established to defend against.
“We, the political leaders of NATO, are determined to continue renewal of our alliance so that it is fit for purpose in addressing the 21st Century security challenges,” the document says.
“We are firmly committed to preserve its effectiveness as the globe’s most successful political-military alliance.”
The stress on expeditionary operations comes despite what analysts say is a reduced appetite for far-flung operations after the difficulties of Afghanistan.
NATO-led international forces in the country, who now number 150,000, have been unable to contain a Taliban insurgency despite a costly and increasingly bloody 10-year campaign.
NATO states are looking ever more keenly to an exit from Afghanistan and Saturday will endorse a plan to begin turning security over to Afghan forces next year as the first step in a plan to withdraw the bulk of foreign troops by the end of 2014.
The Afghan mission is NATO’s largest combat role in its 61-year history and the first outside the region it was created to defend.
It also has prompted the biggest questions about its future, with internal frictions caused by the unwillingness of some members, such as Germany, to share the risk of frontline combat roles, leading some to question NATO’s long-term viability.
Analysts say the Afghan war has been a blow to NATO’s psyche and a widely expected messy conclusion to the conflict could seriously damage its prestige.
However, they see little threat to the future of NATO itself, give its value as a political and military link between the United States, Canada and Europe.