WASHINGTON, May 5, 2009 – Sixty years after its inception, NATO remains committed to helping to shape the security environment, the alliance’s chief of staff said. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union — NATO’s long-time ideological and military rival — the 28-member collective security group currently is redefining itself, German Gen. Karl-Heinz Lather, chief of staff at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, said last week in an interview and roundtable discussion with military bloggers.

“I think we are an alliance which is redefining itself, which is helping and shaping the security environment to safeguard the freedom of our citizens and increase security around the world,” Lather said.

On the heels of NATO’s historic 60th anniversary and summit in early April, Lather discussed some important recent developments to the alliance.

“We welcomed two new members, Croatia and Albania, and we welcomed France back into our integrated structures, where they have not been in for the past 30 years or so,” he said. “In doing so, I think we reaffirmed our open-door policy to those who want to be members of the alliance.”

He added: “We continue to advance the democracy throughout Europe and to get another step forward to what one of the visions of NATO is, which is a Europe whole and free.”

The general noted that the summit in Strasbourg, France, and Kehl, Germany, produced the selection of the next NATO secretary general, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

The April 3-4 summit also saw members pledge more finances and personnel to the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan – a move that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates characterized as a “pleasant surprise.”

NATO members promised to finance and provide more security — including 3,000 more personnel — for the Afghan election in August, to send 300 additional military trainers and mentors, and 70 NATO embedded training teams to help grow the Afghan National Army. Other pledges include $500 million for civilian assistance and $100 million in support of the Afghan army.

“For the Europeans to have pledged an additional 3,000 or so troops plus the trainers, I think, was a significant achievement,” said Gates, who did not attend the summit due to defense budget obligations here.

Lather said the commitments sounded an important message.

“We signaled a continued determination to stay the course in Afghanistan, even if all members don’t see everything in the same way,” he said. “But that’s what an alliance is about.”

The alliance faces significant challenges, not least of which include shaping the organization to meet operational and institutional needs within an increasingly dynamic security environment, the general said. But he expressed optimism at the alliance’s ability to adapt to these 21st century requirements.

“What NATO does on the ground today, I think, is a visible demonstration to the world, to our peoples, of our willingness to act in the name of collective security for those peoples,” he said. “NATO demonstrates its importance in today’s environment, and we do that each and every day.”

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