WASHINGTON: Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said the recent NATO summit, in which allies pledged additional support to Afghanistan, exceeded his expectations.
In a news conference today that centered mainly on the Pentagon budget, Gates fielded questions regarding commitments by NATO allies and a missile launch by North Korea — both of which took place two days ago.
“I think that what came out of the NATO summit in terms of commitments was for me a pleasant surprise,” Gates said. “I think the summit was actually more successful than I expected in what we were able to get.”
The April 3 to 4 NATO summit in Strasbourg, France, and Kehl, Germany, culminated with allies offering more finances and personnel to the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan.
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.
On North Korea, Gates said the decision by the government in Pyongyang to launch a missile serves as a reminder that long-range rogue missile threats are real.
Pyongyang had maintained the launch was “peaceful” and intended only to send a satellite to orbit, but military officials characterized it as a step toward increasing North Korean weapons technology. President Barack Obama denounced the move as a provocation that violated United Nations international security rules.
The three-stage missile North Korea launched April 4 failed to achieve orbit and fell back into the Pacific Ocean without incident, according to the U.S. military. But a successful launch would not have affected his budget recommendations, Gates said today.
The United States was prepared to use a hit-to-kill technology had the missile threatened Hawaii, and ground-based interceptors in Alaska, he added.
“I think …we’re in a pretty good place with respect to the rogue country missile threat in terms of midcourse and terminal phase,” he said. “What we’re looking at and doing is continuing the [research and development] on the boost phase.”
The midcourse phase allows the longest window of opportunity to intercept an incoming missile up to 20 minutes, whereas the terminal phase occurs when the warhead falls back into the atmosphere — a process that lasts about 30 seconds to a minute. The boost phase is the part of a missile flight path from launch until it stops accelerating under its own power, according to the Missile Defense Agency.
Regarding the launch, Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the United States was gauging North Korea’s ability to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying a weapon of mass destruction, and Pyongyang’s desire to proliferate and sell the technology.
“The technology they were seeking after the first two failures was the ability to stage — in other words, transition from one stage of boost to the next. “They failed,” Cartwright said during the joint news conference with the defense secretary today.
“On the idea of proliferation,” he continued, “would you buy from somebody that had failed three times in a row and never been successful?”