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NATO: Ministers Discuss Missile Defense, Western Balkans

  • Ahto Lobjakas

Brussels, 7 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- NATO defense ministers are meeting today in Brussels to discuss issues ranging from U.S. plans for a missile defense shield to the situation in the Western Balkans.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld this morning briefed his colleagues on the threat of nuclear missile attacks against the United States and its NATO allies in Europe.

According to one NATO diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, European NATO officials were "impressed" by Rumsfeld's presentation. The diplomat said European allies in attendance agreed that the missile threat emanating from the so-called "rogue" nations -- North Korea, Libya, Iran, and Iraq -- is real.

The diplomat also said the Europeans were particularly persuaded by new data demonstrating the increased availability of sophisticated delivery systems for "harmful payloads" ranging from nuclear warheads to chemical and biological weapons.

But the consensus that the problem of heavily armed rogue nations exists may not mean that NATO's European partners have abandoned earlier concerns over the effect of the U.S. plan on existing non-proliferation measures.

The United States has said it will proceed with tests on its new defense shield that will necessarily violate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the Soviet Union. The NATO diplomat said European NATO officials would like to see future non-proliferation measures "build on" existing ones.

NATO ministers also briefly discussed defense reforms. They generally agreed with Secretary-General George Robertson, who said that too little has been done to modernize NATO forces.

This afternoon, NATO ministers resume their meeting to discuss Macedonia and the situation in Bosnia and Kosovo. The diplomat said ministers are expected to agree on a communique to the Macedonian government advising that a declaration of war would not be the "right course of action." NATO will also call for political measures to prevail.

NATO ministers are also likely to agree to a "modest reduction" in troop levels in Bosnia-Herzegovina. There are currently about 20,000 NATO soldiers stationed in Bosnia.

The NATO diplomat said the move should not be viewed as a sign of disengagement. Rather, he said it is an indication that things in Bosnia are returning to normal and that civilian authorities can gradually take over more of the responsibilities currently held by NATO troops.

The troop reductions will not affect the 40,000-strong KFOR peacekeepers in Kosovo.