By Xinhua writers Yi Aijun and Lin Yu
WASHINGTON, May 17 (Xinhua) -- When NATO leaders meet again in Chicago on May 20-21, they will focus on exit from Afghanistan, capacity-building of their alliance in a smart way and building a network of partnership.
In fact, they are delivering on promises of renewal made at the bloc's Lisbon summit in November 2010, where they had pledged to adapt what they called the world's most successful political-military alliance to confront the 21st century security challenges.
At their Lisbon summit, NATO leaders adopted the third strategic concept since 1991 to guide the bloc's actions in the next decade, identifying proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism and cyber attacks, among others, as the key threats to NATO members.
For Jorge Benitez, a senior fellow in the International Security Program at the Atlantic Council think tank, terrorism and the ongoing instability and violence in the Middle East and North Africa pose the "most serious" security challenges to the transatlantic community since the rise of the Cold War after World War II.
"The Chicago summit is of great relevance to the security of the U.S. and its allies," Benitez told Xinhua.
Major decisions will be announced in Chicago about the final phases of the transition in Afghanistan, where American and NATO troops are fighting a decade-old war.
NATO leaders envisioned in Lisbon the withdrawal of most combat troops by the end of 2014 when the Afghan forces are expected to take the security lead in their country.
The end in sight of a long and bloody war will come as a great relief as none of NATO members and partners are not overwhelmed by budget deficits and reduced spending as well as growing anti-war sentiments at home.
As the budget constraints are threatening the core capabilities of NATO, leaders will resort to what NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has called "smart defense" approach, which calls for pooling and sharing capabilities of member nations in a time of austerity.
Missile defense, alliance ground surveillance and Baltic air policing and other important programs will be unveiled at the Chicago summit.
"Smart defense was created to help the alliance 'do more with less' in the current age of fiscal austerity," said Benitez.
By reaching out further to partner nations and soliciting their continuing participation in alliance operations and activities, as in Afghanistan and Libya, the Chicago summit will contribute further to members' security.
"Effective partnerships allow the alliance to extend its reach, to act with greater legitimacy, to share burdens and to benefit from the capabilities of others," Tina Kaidanow, U.S. principal deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, told a House hearing last month.
The Chicago summit marks the first time in more than 13 years that NATO leaders ever meet on U.S. soil.
U.S. government officials said Washington has set three objectives for the summit, namely charting "a clear path" for the completion of transition and reaffirming NATO's commitment to the long-term security of Afghanistan, maintaining NATO's core defense capabilities in an age of austerity and building a force ready for future challenges, and deepening the engagement of NATO's partner nations in alliance operations and activities.
At their Lisbon summit, NATO leaders pledged to develop and maintain "robust, mobile and deployable" conventional forces to carry out both collective defense responsibilities and the alliance's expeditionary operations.
With the realization of Washington's objectives, NATO would emerge revitalized and as powerful in years.
"The U.S. hopes NATO will continue to evolve to protect its members from new threats, such as ballistic missiles and cyber attacks, by preserving and developing essential defense capabilities," said Benitez.
"The deterrence and operational value of NATO's integrated military command, built on decades of multinational cooperation and interoperability, cannot be duplicated," he explained.
Steven Pifer, a senior fellow in the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution think tank, agreed on the alliance's indispensability to the security of the transatlantic community.
There are differing views among members over NATO's future role, as some argue for continuing adherence to collective defense under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty signed in April 1949, while some others call for out of area operations.
However, "both the United States and Europe think NATO is going to remain relevant for the security of the transatlantic region," said Pifer.
"Although my guess is that after Afghanistan enthusiasm both in Europe and the United States for that kind of operation in the future is going to be pretty limited, I think within NATO countries there's a sense that NATO is a useful tool, there is no organization in the world that is as good as NATO at organizing and conducting multinational military operations," he told Xinhua.