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NATO: Alliance Chief Presses Allies For Greater Spending And Faster Reforms

The NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels Thursday (9 June) ended on a sour note with Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer using a news conference to remind member states that greater spending is needed to attain the goals set for the alliance. He indicated that most allies in Europe are spending far less than needed and are moving too slowly on reforms needed to make their forces more flexible. De Hoop Scheffer pointed to Afghanistan as one alliance success story, but said the crisis in Darfur now needs urgent attention from both NATO and the European Union.

Brussels, 9 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Jaap de Hoop Scheffer today showed clear frustration when he told member states they must start spending more if NATO is to cope with the tasks set to it.

Figures released by NATO show only a handful of the European allies spend more than the 2 percent of GDP that is tacitly required of all member states.

De Hoop Scheffer also said that if the alliance is to continue its work in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Iraq, and elsewhere, member states must speed up the process of reforming their militaries.

"We agreed that we need new approaches to funding. We need a much more collective approach to logistics. At the moment, we have many nations having their own logistics support. We need better intelligence sharing. We do need to improve what I call predictability in the provisions of the forces for our operations, and we need a more comprehensive focus on post-conflict stabilization," de Hoop Scheffer said.

Currently, most European troops are basically stationary, unable to deploy outside their own territories.

The United States has over the past years consistently maintained higher spending levels than any other NATO state and also has far higher flexibility in terms of troop movement.

But as a whole, NATO is not capable of sustained long-range missions. These include air-to-air fueling, intelligence-gathering, and efficient logistics.

These deficiencies, de Hoop Scheffer said today, are mainly the result of the allies' unwillingness to share their assets or provide timely joint financing for missions.

De Hoop Scheffer said all this puts at risk NATO's ability to maintain and extend its missions in Afghanistan, Kosovo, and elsewhere.

He singled out Afghanistan as a particular success story. The ministers today formally agreed to provide an additional three battalions to secure the 18 September legislative elections in the country. They also elaborated on plans to extend NATO's presence in western Afghanistan and begin expansion to the south:

"They discussed NATO's longer-term engagement after the elections. You know that the so-called Bonn process comes to an end with the parliamentary elections. And of course this included supporting the Afghan government -- although that is not NATO's first responsibility, as you all know -- but the support for the Afghan government in the fight against narcotics," de Hoop Scheffer said.

De Hoop Scheffer said he hopes that a NATO military training center in Baghdad will be working by early October:

"On Iraq, ministers look forward to the establishment of the training, education, and doctrine center at Arustamya, near Baghdad, the outskirts of Baghdad, in fact. The work is moving forward, and I hope the center will be up and running at early fall," de Hoop Scheffer said.

The allies have failed so far to agree on joint security arrangements for the up to 150 NATO training officials who will be involved in the center's work. A private South African security company currently provides security.

The NATO secretary-general today also forcefully called on NATO and the EU to put their differences behind them and work together to help relieve the crisis in Darfur.

"The people in Darfur need help, and the African Union is providing the help. So NATO and the EU are doing everything we can to answer the request by the African Union," de Hoop Scheffer said.

After a brief dispute, the two organizations earlier this week agreed to share responsibility for providing the African Union with aircraft to bring in peacekeepers from its member states.

De Hoop Scheffer repeatedly insisted the entire operation is fully controlled by the African Union, not by NATO or the EU.