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NATO: Restructuring, Reform High On Agenda Of Defense Ministers

  • Ahto Lobjakas

Defense ministers from NATO's 19 member states and the alliance's seven candidate nations are meeting in Brussels today and tomorrow. Modernization of the alliance is the main issue on the agenda, both in terms of streamlining command structures and building new capabilities. The meeting will be the first to allow candidate representatives to participate in the deliberations of NATO's main policy-making body, the North Atlantic Council. RFE/RL takes a look at the ministers' agenda.

Brussels, 12 June 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The meetings in Brussels today and tomorrow will begin with a sitting of the Nuclear Planning Group, attended by ministers from all allies, except France, which is not a member.

The ministers will listen to a briefing on the implementation of the U.S. Nuclear Posture Review, the strategic reorientation of the U.S. nuclear arsenal in light of emerging threats. The threat presented by "states of concern" -- a euphemism that refers to North Korea and possibly Iran -- will also be discussed.

German Defense Minister Peter Struck addressed these concerns in remarks to journalists as he arrived at NATO headquarters in Brussels this morning. "There won't be any more wars in the traditional sense. We have to deal with terrorist threats and, in this case, it is important that NATO -- as well as the European Union -- develop joint concepts against international terrorism," Struck said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, speaking yesterday in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, spoke about what the U.S. considers "rogue" states developing nuclear capabilities. "If free nations do not come together and come to grips with the proliferation problem, it is possible that not so many years from now we could be living in a world with up to twice the number of nuclear powers and the reality that a number of those new nuclear powers could be terrorist states," he said.

Rumsfeld is due to brief defense ministers on the situation in Iraq today.

A senior NATO official, speaking to journalists earlier this week, said the issue of so-called "mini-nukes," or tactical low-yield warheads, which the United States says it is studying, will not be broached.

NATO's Defense Planning Committee also will meet, again without France, but this time attended by all seven NATO candidates -- Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. The ministers will discuss the political aspects of NATO's force planning strategy, or -- in the words of the official quoted above -- "NATO's level of ambition -- what we think we ought to be able to do."

U.S. Admiral Edmund Giambastiani, who is overseeing the transformation of the U.S. armed forces and who was recently appointed NATO's transformation commander, will present a briefing on defense planning lessons drawn from the war in Iraq.

The meeting will also review progress in setting up NATO's new response force, meeting the so-called Prague capabilities, and take stock of the prospects for completing the ongoing command arrangements review.

Command-structure reform is likely to take up most of the ministers' attention this afternoon when current allies and the seven invitees meet at the North Atlantic Council. NATO officials say that although everyone agrees a revamp of NATO's command structures is necessary, certain details have proven politically controversial.

At the core of the command-structure reforms is the creation of a single strategic commander for all NATO forces where there are currently two -- one for Europe and one for the "Atlantic" area. Matching the U.S. "transformation command" concept, NATO is in the process of creating a "strategic commander for transformation" who would oversee strategic work on concepts, force development, defense planning, and education.

The problems arise at lower levels, where attempts are made to economize by cutting down the number of command structures.

NATO sources indicate the allies are wrangling over the location of the remaining lower-level headquarters. Essentially, allies with existing NATO structures want to keep them, while others hope to gain new structures. One official said the discussions are complex and sensitive, since "at the end of the day, we're talking about people's jobs."

Another key topic for today's North Atlantic Council meeting is capabilities reform. Progress has been slow in a number of areas where the Prague summit last December committed the allies to joint action.

The ministers will also touch on the current political situations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Middle East. Assistance to Poland in its bid to lead part of the stabilization force in Iraq will be discussed.

Although officials say NATO is closely watching developments in Afghanistan after last weekend's suicide bombing in which four German peacekeepers were killed, they say the alliance "won't be deterred" from taking over command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in August.

Tonight will see another meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission, which will for the most part concentrate on Ukraine's defense-reform performance.

Tomorrow morning, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov will be present at a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council, which is expected to provide guidance on the future development of "military-to-military" cooperation between the two sides. Russia's offer of practical assistance to the ISAF will also be addressed, as will the implications of Russia's decision to withdraw its forces from the Balkans.

Finally, NATO and its partner countries in the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council will meet tomorrow to discuss new security challenges and cooperation in Afghanistan.

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