Russia no threat to NATO – U.S.
“It's hard for me to imagine that those who are currently in NATO feel a real military threat coming from Russia,” Gates told reporters in London.
Nevertheless, Gates did acknowledge that there is a variety of opinions in the Alliance, ranging from those of the smaller Baltic States to those of Western European powers.
The Defense Secretary said there is “a middle ground” for prudent actions, which include non-provocative exercises that do not send unwanted signals to Russia, but provide assurances to the allies that the U.S. “are mindful of their concerns”.
However, Gates also warned Moscow that another Russian attack on Georgia once it joined NATO would result in an American armed response.
“I have been a very strong proponent of the view that NATO is a military alliance not a talk shop. Article five means what it says – so there is a commitment to go to the assistance of our allies if they are challenged,” Gates pointed out.
He also noted that the United States was unprepared to accept the independence of the new breakaway states and will continue to pursue Georgia's territorial integrity.
The Pentagon chief is taking part in a two-day meeting of NATO's Defence ministers in London. The forum has unofficial status and is held behind closed doors.
The main focus of the discussions is a major reform of the Western Alliance, while the situation in the Caucasus is also on the agenda.
Before the start of the informal meeting, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said the alliance would not consider adopting a new policy towards Russia.
Deal signed to station U.S. forces in Czech Republic
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Czech Defence Minister Vlasta Parkanova have signed the Status of Forces Agreement that provides a legal framework for U.S. presence in the Czech Republic. Around 200 American military personnel will be working at the radar facility in the Czech Republic once it's built.
The main deal was signed in Prague in July this year. It envisages the construction of a missile defence system south-west of Prague.
The move has drawn widespread opposition in the country and is also strongly criticised by Russia. It says the installation close to its border threatens its national security.