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World: Munich Security Conference Dominated By Terrorism Theme

  • Roland Eggleston

Defense ministers and military experts from more than 40 countries met in the German city of Munich over the weekend for an annual conference on international security. Discussions were dominated by the international fight against terrorism and a perceived growing rift between the U.S. and its European allies. Participants also discussed the role of NATO in a world increasingly dominated by U.S. power.

Munich, 4 February 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The international fight against terrorism was the main theme of a high-level conference on security held over the weekend in the German city of Munich.

Participants in the annual "Munich Conference on Security Policy" included defense ministers, lawmakers, and military experts from 43 countries.

Our correspondent reports that delegates to the conference were largely cautious in commenting on how the fight against terrorism should develop.

U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who has previously suggested that military action should be taken against Iraq, did not mention any country by name, but did say several times that the U.S. views itself as being in a state of war.

He told the group that since it is not possible to defend the nation against all possible threats, the U.S. sees the only solution as taking the war to the enemy.

"We are at war. Self-defense requires prevention and sometimes preemption. It is not possible to defend against every threat, in every place, at every conceivable time. The only defense against terrorism is to take the war to the enemy."

Another U.S. delegate, Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), charged Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein by name as a supporter of terrorism and suggested he should be the next target.

McCain told the conference that terrorist training camps exist in Iraq and the country has stockpiled chemical weapons and is known to be trying to develop nuclear weapons. But he said time is running out not only for Saddam Hussein but for all states that support terrorism.

"A day of reckoning is approaching, not simply for Saddam Hussein. Afghanistan represented only the first front in a global campaign that will not end until we have defeated global terrorism and the states that support it."

McCain named Syria and Sudan as states that must make a choice in regard to tolerating terrorist activity. "It is in their own interest to make the right one." He added that questions remain about Iran and North Korea.

This stronger U.S. line was picked up by senior Republican foreign policy adviser Richard Perle. Perle told participants that "never has the United States been more unified, never has it been more purposeful, never has it been more willing, if necessary, to act alone."

But reports said European delegates appeared increasingly reluctant to go along with the U.S. in extending the fight to countries like Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, fueling speculation of a rift between the U.S. and its European allies.

Iran, Iraq, and North Korea were singled out last week by U.S. President George W. Bush as constituting what Bush called an "axis of evil." While Bush did not say that military action against the three was forthcoming, the naming of the three countries was seen as a strong signal from the U.S. as to which direction the fight would go.

Democratic U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman attempted to bridge differences by saying it was wrong to believe there is a war between Islam and the rest of the world. He said the problem was with a network of fanatics who were trying to build what he called a "theological iron curtain" to divide the Muslim world from the rest of the globe.

NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson attended the conference yesterday. He met with U.S., Russian, and European officials on the sidelines of the conference to discuss topics including the fight against terrorism and relations between the alliance and Russia.

Robertson held separate talks with Wolfowitz and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov.

Robertson also met with Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who later told participants about China's own problems with "East Turkestan" militants who he said are trained and funded by the Al-Qaeda terrorist group.

Russian Defense Minister Ivanov told the conference that international terrorists are fighting on the side of militants in the breakaway republic of Chechnya. He said a video found in Afghanistan showed a meeting between Osama bin Laden and a Chechen leader. He said some of the militants killed in clashes with Russian border guards appear to be foreign mercenaries.

Ivanov also criticized Georgian authorities for what he called "losing control" of the Pankisi Gorge near the Chechen border. Ivanov said about 150 Chechen militants had been able to establish a base there.

Later, Georgian Defense Minister David Tevzadze responded that Russia's own actions were partly responsible for the problems. He also criticized Russia's behavior in regard to Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia.

The other important theme of the conference was the status of the NATO alliance in a military world now dominated by U.S. power.

Many contend that NATO's status is diminished since the U.S. has become such a dominant military power in its own right.

Robertson and many U.S. delegates challenged the critics by insisting that NATO's political, military, and logistical support remain crucial in creating a peaceful and stable world. He said this had been demonstrated by the war in Afghanistan.

"Afghanistan reinforces the fact that no modern military operation can be undertaken by any single country. Even superpowers need allies and coalitions to provide bases, fuel, airspace, and forces. And they need mechanisms and experience to integrate these forces into a single coherent military capability."

But both Robertson and the U.S. delegates said NATO's European members must honor past promises to spend more on modernizing their armed forces.

Robertson said Europe finds it difficult to maintain the 50,000 troops it has serving in various Balkan countries. European countries are less able than the United States to deploy effective military forces in significant numbers outside their borders.

But Robertson also called on the U.S. to do more to help Europe modernize its armed forces. He said it could ease what he described as unnecessary restrictions on the transfer of U.S. military technology to Europe. It could also assist in building up a modern arms industry in Europe.

Robertson noted that U.S. President George W. Bush has announced plans for a substantial increase in U.S. military spending. He said this would widen the gap between U.S. and European forces and that without U.S. help in developing the European armed forces, this gap could become unbridgeable.

He says if that happens, the choice for Washington would become: Act alone or not at all.