LISBON, Portugal — NATO adopted a new strategic concept during the first day of a two-day summit that commits the alliance to making missile defense part of its mission.

Heads of state from the 28-nation alliance agreed Friday that NATO must become more engaged in conflicts around the globe to deal with new dangers such as piracy and terrorism while also maintaining a nuclear capability to deter old threats.

The new strategic mission statement aims to transform NATO from a Cold War alliance into a more nimble organization that is better positioned to deal with unpredictable emerging threats. The agreement also calls for stronger defense against cyber attacks by bringing all NATO bodies under centralized protection.

“It modernizes the way NATO does defense in the 21st century,” NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said during a briefing Friday in which he unveiled the new policy, dubbed “Active Engagement, Modern Defense.”

Rasmussen said NATO will remain committed to creating conditions “for a world without nuclear weapons. ... But as long as there are nuclear weapons in the world, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance.”

The strategic concept, updated for the first time in more than a decade, emphasizes NATO’s need to build its capacity for conducting counterinsurgency missions and also will establish a civilian team to interact with non-military partners involved in those operations.

Missile defense also is a central element of the new strategy for NATO, and Rasmussen is hopeful for Russian cooperation. But while NATO has agreed to make a missile shield for Europe part of its mission, many questions remain about how that plan will work.

For example, it is uncertain how command and control of the new system will function. Russia’s piece of the puzzle and how it would share information with NATO also is uncertain. Meanwhile, NATO member Turkey has expressed concerns about the plan and has insisted that Iran not be named in strategic concept as the reason for NATO’s foray into missile defense.

Still, Rasmussen said missile defense is now part of NATO’s future.

“We intend to build a missile defense system to deal with these threats,” he said.

Unlike during the Cold War, conventional military threats no longer stoke fear within the alliance. Instead, it’s the proliferation of ballistic missiles that poses a threat to the trans-Atlantic community, Rasmussen said.

Nonetheless, the U.S. is likely to do most of the heavy lifting in any missile shield strategy. The U.S.’ so-called Phased Adaptive Approach uses sensors and interceptor technologies. The phased approach combines a ship-borne defense system with deployed land-based sites in Romania and Poland.

NATO says it will cost roughly $270 million over 10 years to integrate its system with the U.S. phased approach. The cost would be divided, with a cost sharing agreement that has big countries paying more.

“Even in a time of fiscal constraint, we can afford it,” Rasmussen said earlier Friday. “But by reaching out and inviting Russia to cooperate with us, I believe we also have a real chance to build a security roof for the entire Euro-Atlantic area.”

Critics have argued that NATO, originally conceived to counter the Soviet Union, still has a foot in the past and remains entrenched in a Cold War mentality. As part of its planned reinvention, NATO will attempt to streamline itself by reducing the size of its headquarters, trimming tens of millions of dollars from its budget. NATO also wants to cut the number of its various support agencies scattered around Europe from 14 to three.

NATO must make itself more efficient at a time of increased budget constraints, Rasmussen said.

On Saturday, allies were to turn their attention to Afghanistan. NATO is expected to approve a plan for the gradual transition of security responsibility to Afghan forces in early 2011. The end goal is for Afghans to be in the lead by the end of 2014. NATO also will unveil a plan for an “enduring partnership” with Afghanistan beyond combat operations.

Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the war effort, will brief dozens of heads of state and Afghan President Hamid Karzai also will address the allies. A potential agreement with Russia to allow for the transit of armored vehicles through its territory also could be announced.

The NATO summit could have a ripple effect for U.S. troops in Europe. Though the conference will not have a direct impact on how U.S. troops are aligned overseas, U.S. military planners will take NATO’s new Strategic Concept into account as they ponder whether to keep four Army brigades in Europe. The DOD’s Quadrennial Defense Review, released earlier this year, stated four brigade combat teams and an Army Corps headquarters will remain in Europe pending a DOD review of NATO’s strategic concept.

Rasmussen, while not speaking directly about the pending decision in the U.S., made the case for a continued U.S. military presence in Europe.

“History shows that Europe is at peace when the United States is part of European security,” Rasmussen said Friday during a speech to youth leaders.

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.

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