Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Lisbon, Portugal this weekend where the North Atlantic allies convened to look beyond Afghanistan and discuss their twenty-first century strategy. The war, along with the ballistic missile shield to be erected over Central Europe, dominated the agenda in Lisbon nevertheless and Clinton talked about it on the American Sunday morning talk shows this week.
In Portugal yesterday, President Barack Obama attested that the allies had aligned their approach “on the way forward in Afghanistan, particularly on a transition to full Afghan lead that will begin in early 2011 and will conclude in 2014.” According to Secretary Clinton, different NATO countries have pledged to increase their numbers of training forces in the country to support that process. “This was a great vote of confidence in President Obama’s strategy for Afghanistan,” she told Fox News Sunday.
The period between 2011 and 2014 will be one of transition, conditioned based, “so where it can happen, at what pace it can happen, how many troops can be substituted for — that is what General [David] Petraeus and the military leaders are going to be working on to recommend to the president,” Clinton said on NBC’s Meet the Press.
The hardest part may be yet to come. Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, predicted a “difficult year” in Afghanistan, telling ABC’s This Week that while “the security situation has started to change” there is still a tough fight ahead.
The other NATO countries are increasingly weary about the future of the Afghan mission meanwhile. Germany and the United Kingdom, major contributors to ISAF, are likely to start withdrawing while the Netherlands has already pulled out. In fact, the only country besides the United States that has announced to stay in Afghanistan for as long as it takes is Australia — not a NATO member.
While affirming his commitment to nuclear weapons nonproliferation on Saturday, the president assured the world that “so long as these weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance and the United States will maintain a safe, secure and effective nuclear arsenal to deter adversaries and guarantee the defense of all our allies.”
At the summit, Obama said to have received “overwhelming” support for the new strategic arms reduction treaty with Russia. According to the European allies, New START is “a critical component to American and European security. And they have urged, both privately and publicy, that this gets done,” the president said.
Clinton reiterated those words Sunday. “It’s because they know that this would be an important treaty for the continuing cooperation between Russia and the United States,” she explained on Fox News Sunday. Even as the treaty was signed between Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitri Medvedev in Prague in April, the secretary said to “understand the legitimate concern that there might not be enough time to debate, to make sure that everybody is well informed.” At the same time, she stressed that since the last nuclear arms treaty expired in December, the United States have not been able to verify Russia’s commitment. That is why, she said, “we cannot wait.”