WASHINGTON --- NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg previewed the NATO Defense Ministers meeting, saying the alliance will continue to adapt to the challenges of the 21st century.
Stoltenberg spoke at NATO headquarters as alliance defense ministers -- including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis -- gathered in Brussels to begin their deliberations. The meeting will help set the stage for the NATO Summit next summer, also in Brussels.
NATO will continue to change to meet the threats facing it, the secretary general said.
“Our command structure is the backbone of the alliance,” he said during a short conversation with reporters. “It has evolved through the decades, to reflect changing security conditions. And it must continue to evolve to remain robust, agile and fully fit for purpose.”
NATO ministers are looking at an outline design for an adapted NATO command structure, Stoltenberg said. This will include new commands to improve the movement of troops across the Atlantic and within Europe, he said.
Power projection and military mobility is essential to the alliance’s deterrence and defense capabilities, the secretary general said.
The alliance is also looking to update the military requirements for civilian infrastructure, such as roads, railways and airports, Stoltenberg said.
“This is vital for NATO,” he said. Bridges, culverts, roads and railroads, he said, must be checked to ensure they can take the stress of armored vehicles. Bridges need to be high enough to allow taller vehicles to pass under. Before the fall of the Soviet Union, NATO nations did this routinely throughout Western Europe.
Now the effort must be renewed in Western Europe and extend into Central and Eastern allies, the secretary general said.
“Cyber is another top priority for NATO, which will be reflected in our updated command structure,” Stoltenberg said. “I expect ministers will decide on ways to integrate cyber into all NATO planning and operations. So we can be just as effective in the cyber domain, as we are in air, on land and at sea.”
The ministers will meet with European Union Vice President for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, he said. They also will discuss threats to international security, including North Korea.
“Pressure is required to find the path for peace,” the secretary general said. “We will need full and transparent implementation of U.N. sanctions. Russia and China have a special role to play as neighboring countries and as permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. This is a global threat, which requires a global response.”
Tomorrow, the ministers will discuss developments in Afghanistan, where the security situation remains unstable. Stoltenberg said Afghan forces are making progress. The United States and other NATO allies and partners are sending more troops to the country. All this serves to “strengthen the Afghan forces so that they can fight international terrorists, and pave the way for a lasting political solution,” he said.
The last item is a meeting of the global coalition to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which is chaired by Mattis. That group, which now includes NATO as an entity, will examine the progress made in the effort and the moves that remain.