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NATO Members Discuss Greater Defense Integration Before Chicago Summit

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen holds a news conference at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, April 18, 2012.

NATO's chief is urging members to coordinate their security policies more closely in this period of budget cuts. NATO foreign and defense ministers are holding a rare joint meeting in Brussels.

Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen says the goal is to ensure the alliance “has the right defense capabilities” despite financial constraints in Europe and America.

At a brief news conference between meetings, Rasmussen said keeping NATO strong will require “real effort and real determination,” as the 26 member states develop their defense-spending plans.

"It demands real willingness to consult with allies on possible changes to our defense programs and budgets before firm decisions are taken," he said.

Chicago Summit

The secretary-general said the NATO summit in Chicago next month will adopt new initiatives to improve inter-operability among alliance military forces.

But some NATO experts believe more is needed.

Professor Sean Kay at Ohio Wesleyan University in the United States, says recent operations in Afghanistan and Libya revealed major shortcomings in NATO's capabilities.

“The temptation is always to say, 'This is the greatest, most successful alliance in the history of the world.' And that is true. But it also has serious, serious fundamental problems - operating problems, political commitment problems - that come out of the Afghanistan war (and) were exacerbated in Libya," said Kay. "If NATO just comes to Chicago, pats itself on the back and says 'We are on plan and we are just doing great,' they have not made the kind of deep seated changes that need to be made."

NATO at crossroads

An internal NATO report cited specific problems in the Libya operation, particularly related to a shortage of high-technology weapons and surveillance capabilities only the U.S. military can provide. Alliance officials say the report is part of the usual "lessons learned" process after any operation. But Professor Kay and other experts say the problems are deeper than that.

"NATO is in a really crucial crossroads at this stage because the Libya conflict really exposed a fundamental disconnect in terms of NATO's military operating capabilities," he said.

Meanwhile, NATO continues to implement its transition plan in Afghanistan, where recent Taliban attacks have cast doubt on claims of progress. But officials say although the Taliban can launch spectacular attacks, its overall capabilities have been significantly degraded in recent years.

Secretary-General Rasmussen says the alliance and its partners are on track to hand over most combat operations to Afghan forces next year, and to end the large-scale foreign military role by the end of 2014.