NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard signed the NATO-Australia Joint Political Declaration in Canberra today. It is the first such agreement between the alliance and one of its global partners and foresees cooperation in crisis and conflict management, post-conflict situations, reconstruction and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
Australia is an important global partner of the alliance, with which it already has an Individual Partnership and Cooperation Program. It has been participating in NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan for the last decade. With 1,550 troops currently in Afghanistan, Australia is the largest non-NATO contributor to ISAF. It will take over ISAF responsibility for Uruzgan province later this year.
In a speech to the National Press Club in Canberra on 13 June, Rasmussen said, "As we gradually wind down our combat mission in Afghanistan, we are looking very closely at how we can retain the lessons we have learnt there under such challenging conditions and maintain the ability to work together in the future." Possibilities for cooperation he mentioned were developing military capabilities, conducting more joint training, education, and exercises -- particularly with special forces -- and in the areas of maritime security and cyber security.