Washington, 26 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- One of the most interesting and visually exciting events during NATO's summit in Washington was an elaborate computer-generated international crisis which was being solved on-line by military personnel from all 27 Partnership For Peace (PFP) nations.
The PFP is a major initiative introduced by NATO at the January 1994 Brussels summit. The aim of the partnership, according to NATO, was to establish strong links between NATO and its new democratic partners in the former Soviet bloc and some of Europe's traditionally neutral countries in order to enhance stability and security throughout Europe.
According to the officials who ran the simulation, the exercise was intended to enhance multinational training and peacekeeping exercises in order to encourage military interoperability, facilitate the development of common practices, and build trust and confidence between nations.
Major Rebecca Colaw, a public affairs officer for the U.S. Atlantic Command, took our RFE/RL correspondent on a tour of the simulation facility. She said such simulations are utilized often because they can be specifically tailored to meet the needs of particular participants at about 90 percent less cost than actually deploying troops in the field.
Colaw says the computer simulations can be adjusted to fit a specific terrain, scenario, and battlefield conditions, helping to train commanders with decision-making without having to move troops.
"Today's society is no longer two super powers facing off against each other. What we have are a lot of small conflicts that require multinational forces. So, what the computers allow us to do is to create these complex environments in which the commanders can make decisions," she says.
Lieutenant General Vitaly Kuksenko, the Military Representative of Ukraine to NATO was in charge of the simulated crisis. He told RFE/RL that the program of simulating and solving international crises via computer networks is very useful in helping officers and leaders learn critical decision-making skills.
Kuksenko says Ukraine has received very practical benefits from the participating in the simulation aside from the skills it allows its officers to develop and sharpen. He says overall it is helping Ukraine become better prepared to participate in multinational peacekeeping operations.
He says such cooperation between his country and the West would have been unthinkable ten and even five years ago. But he says the PFP program has been important to Ukraine in allowing it to study and learn NATO procedures and standards that could apply in peaceful operations.
Kuksenko says that Ukraine has benefited from its PFP membership in many ways. But he says Ukraine has also shown it is ready and able to contribute effectively and equally to multinational peacekeeping operations, such as the one it took part in 1992 in Bosnia.
Taking a quick break from his duty in the computer simulation, Lieutenant Colonel Nikolai Dotzev of the Bulgarian Army chatted with RFE/RL, saying his role in the simulation was to work with counterparts from Slovakia, Italy and Romania to deal with logistics and supply problems resulting from the simulated crisis.
When asked how difficult it was to work closely with military officials from diverse countries and backgrounds, Dotzev says that surprisingly there were no problems. Instead, he says it was quite beneficial to be able to observe and learn from the actions and behaviors of his colleagues as they jointly worked toward a solution.
Frantisek Bobrik, an officer from Slovakia, agreed, momentarily leaving his post and telling RFE/RL that he preferred to cooperate with his country's neighbors than fight with them. He says it was "really exciting" to have the opportunity to work together in such a environment, adding that the computer technology made it possible for everyone to participate in a joint multinational exercise and resolve international crises without even having anyone leave their home.
James Hendrick, Program Manager for the PFP Information Management System, says simulations are a unique way to strengthen cooperation and understanding of various military techniques and strategies, and to get the best out of all of them.
He says the goal of the simulations is to enable efficient, reliable information exchange between PFP countries and the NATO community -- a key first step in the orderly process of incorporating partners into NATO initiatives. By extending communications connectivity and automated means for common access to information, the program will help support an environment conducive to multinational cooperation in Europe, he says.
"Each partner has an individual plan and a work plan that they sign up to with NATO. Each one is a bit different. NATO has put out 21 cooperative topics at which theyd like to engage the partners. But because of the differences of the 27 nations in the PFP, each one of them takes it at their own speed and their own politically-accepted focus."
NATO officials say computer simulations of international crises, such as the one that was demonstrated during the summit, will help Europe come together to solve such problems peacefully and in cooperation.