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Lisa Daniel - American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 9, 2010 - Increasing global threats such as those to computer networks and growing hostilities from Iran are prompting more NATO expeditionary operations, NATO's top military officer said today.
"The demands of these nontraditional, transported threats are moving [European member nations] into this direction," Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis, NATO's supreme allied commander for Europe and commander of U.S. European Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Stavridis noted that 100,000 NATO troops are involved in expeditionary operations on three continents, including operations in Afghanistan, off the coast of Africa, and in Bosnia. "The nature of threats in this 21st century [is] going to demand more than just sitting behind our borders," he said.
Among the greatest concerns that impacts both military and civilian realms, the admiral said, is cybersecurity. "Today, we have a billion devices that are accessing the Internet," he said. "Our economies are entangled in this Internet sea, and it's an outlaw sea. Nothing exists in the norms of behavior. There is a military aspect to it, but it's all of society. At some point, there needs to be a very global conversation on this challenge."
European Command, as well as other U.S. commands, trains for widespread computer network attacks, and NATO last year opened a center in Estonia to deal with cyber threats, Stavridis said.
"We're all grappling with this, and the more we cross-communicate and share our efforts, the more successful we will be," he said. "This needs to be taken to a higher level among the nations that want to work on this."
And European nations increasingly have a watchful eye on Iran, Stavridis said. "I find Iran alarming in any number of dimensions," he told the senators, including its state-sponsored terrorism, nuclear proliferation and political outreach into Latin America. "It's fair to say we're seeing a growing appreciation of it in Europe," he added.
Stavridis called the new phased-in approach for European missile defense "timely and flexible," and said it will provide "capability that we can step up and be adaptive, as the Iranian capability to use ballistic missiles goes forward."
The admiral said he is very confident in the first stage of the program, which is sea-based with the Aegis weapons system and "reasonably confident" in the second phase, which is shore-based.
Stavridis also said the missile defense program offers opportunities to partner with Russia on the possible use of its radar for the system, and with Israel on perhaps adapting the Medium Extended Air Defense System to work with existing technologies.
"We in the United States do not have the market cornered on all of the smart technology, and we would be well-served to reach out to our allies about integrating, and MEADS is a player in that," he said.
Turning to other operations, Stavridis called the NATO mission in the Balkans "a real success story" that gets little publicity. The operations have kept the peace in Kosovo even while decreasing troops from 30,000 10 years ago to 1,200 today, he said.
The next step in Balkan operations is to determine how the drawdown should proceed, Stavridis said, adding that tensions still exist in Serbia about Kosovo, which the Serbian government views as a breakaway province, but which 63 nations, including the United States, view as sovereign.
"We need to move carefully in the Balkans so we don't fall back," Stavridis said. "This process has been extraordinary. We don't want to let it go, but it requires watchful service."