Travel Diary: Behind the Scenes at the NATO Joint Ministerial

Posted by Elizabeth Blazey
October 15, 2010
Defense Secretary Gates Participates in a NATO Roundtable Meeting

About the Author: Elizabeth Blazey serves as an Intern in the Public Affairs Section of the U.S. Mission to NATO.

It was quite thrilling to be a part, albeit a small part, of the Joint Ministerial for Foreign and Defense Ministers on October 14 at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, in which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates both participated. They were joined by foreign and defense ministers from the 27 other NATO member states, making this the first time both sets of ministers gathered at NATO Headquarters together.

The Joint Ministerial focused on, among other issues, NATO's new draft Strategic Concept, which will be approved by Heads of State at the NATO Summit in Lisbon next month. The Strategic Concept, drafted by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, is designed to chart a course for NATO into the 21st century and to outline how it can position itself to address a number of critical issues -- including terrorism, missile defense, and cybersecurity.

At the Joint Ministerial, there were three major, closed-door meetings -- one for defense ministers, one for foreign ministers, and a joint defense/foreign ministers meeting. The defense ministers met to discuss a number of themes on the agenda, such as NATO command structure reform and improving NATO's capabilities, especially with regard to missile defense, cyber defense, and terrorism, while the foreign ministers discussed NATO partnerships. Although Afghanistan was not on the agenda, ministers did note the importance of helping the Afghans to increasingly take the lead on their own security, along with the need for an ongoing NATO partnership with Afghanistan to ensure its future security.

Between formal meetings, Secretary Clinton and Secretary Gates held a joint press conference, which was packed with journalists from leading U.S. and international media organizations. Upon the two principals' entering the room and almost any time Secretary Clinton made gestures at the podium, the cameras released a furious volley of clicks. It was impressive to see that even after several straight hours of meetings, Clinton and Gates were still leading detailed discussions on a wide array of topics.

As a newcomer to NATO, I found the entire day unlike anything I could have imagined -- especially the massive number of people packed into NATO Headquarters. The U.S. delegation was not alone in holding meetings on the margins of the Ministerial -- ministers from the 27 other member states were doing the same, creating a constant stream of movement and filling NATO's wide hallways with dignitaries. Of course, it was easy to tell who the ministers were as they strode at the head of their delegations, trailed by entourages fanning out on either side. I was secretly (or perhaps, not quite so secretly, according to my colleagues) thrilled to note that I recognized a number of the other foreign and defense ministers as they walked past. All in all, I was impressed to see how smoothly the Joint Ministerial went, given the thousands of moving parts, and that the delegates were able to achieve their targeted goals. Now on to Lisbon!

Related Content: Travel Diary: Secretaries Clinton and Gates Deliver Remarks After Joint NATO MeetingYou can read more about the Secretary's travel here.

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