By Cheryl Pellerin, American Forces Press ServiceMay 21, 2012
CHICAGO (May 20, 2012) -- A year and a half after the NATO members at their summit in Lisbon, Portugal, pledged bold action to revitalize the future alliance, heads of state and government are reaffirming commitment to their collective defense and security, President Barack Obama said here today.
In an opening ceremony of the 25th summit, Obama and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen stood together to shake the hands of fellow leaders arriving to attend the meeting's first session of the North Atlantic Council.
"In these difficult economic times, we can work together and pool our resources," Obama said. "NATO is a force multiplier, and the initiatives we will endorse today will allow each of our nations to accomplish what none of us could achieve alone. We can all be proud that in Lisbon we committed, and now in Chicago we are delivering."
Before the council began its work, another ceremony honored NATO military personnel for service in the alliance's operational theaters. Meeting participants rose as representatives of the armed services of the 28 allied nations entered the room and stood before the heads of state and government.
"As we meet here," Rasmussen said, "over 135,000 men and women are deployed on NATO-led operations. Their daily actions have helped to save countless lives in areas of conflict, crisis or catastrophe."
Soldiers, Sailors, Aairmen and Marines "put their lives on the line every day so that we can enjoy our lives free from fear and danger," the secretary-general said. "We owe them all a deep debt of gratitude, so it is right that we begin our summit today with a tribute to them."
Obama took the opportunity to salute Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis, commander of the U.S. European Command and NATO's supreme allied commander for Europe; Gen. Stephane Abrial of the French air force, NATO's supreme allied commander for transformation; and Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
The president also commended "all of our men and women who are serving in uniform on our behalf, and especially those who are serving today in Afghanistan."
For more than 65 years, Obama said, NATO has been the bedrock of its members' common security, of freedom and of prosperity. "And though the times may have changed," he added, "the fundamental reason for our alliance has not."
The president said nations are stronger and more prosperous when they stand together.
"In good times and in bad, our alliance has endured," he said. "In fact, it has thrived, because we share an unbreakable commitment to the freedom and security of our citizens. We've seen this from the Cold War to the Balkans, from Afghanistan to Libya. And that's the spirit that we need to sustain here in Chicago, and with an alliance that is focused squarely on the future."
Over the next two days, Obama said, the alliance's leaders meet first as allies and then with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and international partners to chart the next phase of the transition to Afghan forces having security responsibility for their whole country.
Just as the NATO allies have sacrificed together for their common security, he said, "we will stand together, united, in our determination to complete this mission."
Obama said he looks forward to meeting with NATO's neighbors and partners around the world who have been so critical to NATO operations, including those in Afghanistan and Libya.
"It will be another reminder that NATO is truly a hub of a network of global security partners," the president said. "There is nothing else like it on Earth."
Referring to the work ahead during the summit, Rasmussen said partnerships are more important than ever in today's world, where threats might come from anywhere.
"In a fast-changing world, we remain each other's indispensible partners," the secretary general said. "Together, we will keep NATO capable of responding to the security challenges of tomorrow, because no country and no continent can deal with them alone. "Together, we will make our partnerships deeper, broader and stronger, because today's threats are no longer confined within individual borders."