Mr. Fogh Rasmussen and Ms Gillard signed the NATO-Australia Joint Political Declaration during their meetings in Canberra. The document sets out a new foundation by which the two sides will forge a closer strategic partnership in the years ahead.
“Our relationship goes far beyond Afghanistan,” the Secretary General said after the declaration was signed. “In this globalised world there are other common challenges we face such as terrorism, piracy and cyber attacks and the more we cooperate to tackle them, the more we will all benefit.”
The Secretary General said that NATO and Australia have agreed that their respective armed forces will keep on training and working together “so that the lessons of cooperation we learned in Afghanistan are put to good use.”
The declaration is the first such accord NATO has signed with a partner nation, highlighting the importance of Australia to NATO allies. It will complement the existing Individual Partnership and Cooperation Programme (IPCP) NATO has with Australia and spells out a commitment that the two sides will seek regular high-level political dialogue on security issues of common concern.
In the document, the two sides also agree to work closely on crisis and conflict management, post-conflict situations, reconstruction and facilitating humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
Australia has been working closely with NATO for nearly a decade as part of the ISAF mission in Afghanistan. The country currently has 1,550 troops in Afghanistan, the largest non-NATO contribution to the ISAF mission which makes Australia one of the most senior security partners NATO has around the world.
The Secretary General expressed the Alliance’s deep gratitude and thanks to Australia’s staunch support of the ISAF mission during his talks with Prime Minister Gillard and other senior Australian officials, including Stephen Smith, Australia’s Defence Minister. “Your servicemen and -women are doing a magnificent job. I know that some of your troops have paid the ultimate sacrifice of their lives in our mission. And I pay the deepest tribute to their courage and their sacrifice,” he said. “NATO is a firm friend of Australia and I look forward to making that friendship still stronger in the coming years.”
Mr. Fogh Rasmussen praised Australia’s recent announcement that it would assume the leadership of the ISAF effort in Uruzgan Province later this year. He also thanked the Australian government’s decision to stay committed to NATO’s mission in Afghanistan after 2014, when the Alliance’s main combat role will switch to one of training, advising and mentoring Afghan National Security Forces.
The talks were part of the Secretary General’s three-day visit to Australia.
The Secretary General also laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier at the Australian War Memorial and he will travel to Sydney where he will participate in a roundtable with students at the University of South Wales before returning to Brussels.