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NATO: Alliance Commited To Reform After U.S. Talks

  • Jeffrey Donovan

Defense ministers from NATO's 19 member countries say they achieved some progress toward revitalizing the alliance to meet a new generation of threats after talks in the U.S. state of Colorado. But as RFE/RL Washington correspondent Jeffrey Donovan reports, the challenge now is for NATO members to restructure their forces and decision-making to enable the swift deployment of troops.

Washington, 10 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson says alliance defense ministers will be taking home a key message after two days of talks in the United States.

"The blunt message from Colorado is going to be this: We need real, deployable soldiers, not paper armies."

After the talks, the 19 ministers said they had reached an informal agreement to take the case for transforming their countries' military forces and decision-making bodies back to their governments in hopes of overhauling NATO's mission to meet the new threats from global terrorism.

That means developing rapid-reaction forces and command structures that can make quick deployments and decisions in crises where even a small delay could spell disaster.

But transforming the alliance wasn't the only topic on the table in Colorado Springs, Colorado, a city in the Rocky Mountains that is also home to the U.S.-Canadian North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).

Also discussed was Bosnia-Herzegovina, where officials said they see NATO gradually pulling out, and Russia's role as a special partner to the alliance.

Robertson, speaking to reporters in Colorado on 8 October, recalled that the vision for transforming NATO was laid out in November 2002 in Prague. He said the new threats were made clear in September 2001, when terrorists killed 3,000 people in the United States.

"The NATO countries must complete the Prague transformation agenda and make their armed forces much more genuinely usable for deployed operations."

Robertson said NATO's biggest problem is that, although Europe has large military forces, it lacks readily deployable troops for emergency operations in hot spots around the world. And the bureaucracies that control decision-making are often too cumbersome to allow for rapid reaction.

Despite large numbers of troops in NATO nations, the alliance is having a hard time maintaining its 19,000 peacekeepers in Kosovo, 12,000 in Bosnia, and 5,500 in Afghanistan.

An agreement in principle has been reached to expand the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. But it is still far from clear how that will be accomplished or where the troops will come from.

NATO countries involved in the current missions, such as Germany, have complained of being stretched thin. But Robertson noted that non-U.S. allies had 1.4 million soldiers in uniform and yet only 55,000 are involved in operations outside their own countries.

"If operations such as ISAF in Afghanistan are to succeed, then we have got to generate more usable soldiers and have the political will to deploy more of them on multinational operations."

But in some quarters in Washington, Europe's political will to truly develop its military is deeply suspect.

Some unidentified NATO and U.S. officials were quoted in Colorado as saying that the alliance's restructuring would not require more spending. But analyst Jack Spencer, a military analyst with the Heritage Foundation, objects to that notion.

He says building and maintaining professional rapid-reaction forces, as well as restructuring bureaucracies, is hardly a cost-free endeavor. "A lot of European defense ministers and the defense community in general are very good at identifying problems, putting forth strategies, and putting forth the correct rhetoric," he says. "What they're real bad at is defense spending. And, essentially, that's what needs to happen right now."

Another question is whether Europe -- where many nations have deep misgivings about the use of American power -- truly wants NATO transformed into a global defense alliance with missions that are often identified solely by Washington.

Joshua Muravchik is an analyst with the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. He says, "The United States is not going to submit to European demands to subordinate American power to UN authority. But there is the possibility of a kind of grand deal in which the Europeans would agree to NATO having a much more active international role and the United States agreeing to take things before NATO, rather than acting unilaterally."

As for other issues discussed in Colorado, Robertson said yesterday that Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov had assured him Russia is not adopting a more aggressive nuclear stance and remains committed to cooperation with the Western alliance.

Ivanov arrived in Colorado a week after his ministry released a document that said Moscow may have to rethink its nuclear strategy in response to what it called NATO's "offensive military doctrine."

Reports from Moscow say Ivanov reiterated that Russia does not rule out a preemptive attack to defend its national interests, echoing the new U.S. national security strategy. But Robertson said Ivanov assured him Russia is not adopting a first-strike policy for its nuclear weapons.

The apparent tension with Russia had sparked some alarm in the media. But Spencer told RFE/RL he sees nothing new or alarming about it.

"Isn't that the same thing the Russians have been saying since the end of the Cold War? I'm not too worried about that. The Russians always say those sorts of things, and we always work it out in the end. The bottom-line is -- the least thing I'm concerned about is armed conflict between Russia and the United States or Europe."

Meanwhile, Nicholas Burns, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, told reporters that the ministers agreed the alliance should consider gradually putting an end to its eight-year peacekeeping mission in Bosnia, where it may no longer be needed.

Separately, NATO officials said they may reduce the overall peacekeeping force in Bosnia next year from 12,000 to 6,000.

The European Union last weekend offered to take over the Bosnia mission. Burns said the United States has not yet decided its view of the offer, and that in any case a NATO departure would have to be discussed first with the Bosnian government.

He said the issue is also likely to be discussed in May when U.S. President George W. Bush and the other NATO leaders meet in Istanbul.