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NATO: Defense Ministers Discuss Reform To Meet New Threats

Brussels, 6 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Defense ministers from the 19 NATO member countries met in Brussels today to discuss the need for the alliance to upgrade its forces and command structures to meet the threats posed by terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. However, officials say the ministers have not agreed to raise defense spending, as the United States and NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson have been urging. U.S. officials and Robertson have repeatedly warned about the growing military capability gap between America and its NATO allies.

The U.S. will spend 3.4 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on the military this year, whereas NATO's European members will spend an average of 1.8 percent of GDP.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld speaking today at a press conference in Brussels: "This threat (of terrorists being able to obtain weapons of mass destruction) is not theoretical, it's real, it is dangerous, if we do not prepare promptly to counter it, we could well experience attacks in our countries that could make the events of September 11 seem modest by comparison.

"We've agreed that at Prague [NATO summit in November 2002] our leaders will decide on specific new military capabilities to meet the new military threats that face us. "As we look to the Prague summit, where, undoubtedly, some new members will be invited to join the alliance, we discuss the idea of asking new members, in addition to maintaining certain core military capabilities, to choose areas of special emphasis for their militaries to take on and to be responsible for delivering those capabilities for the alliance.

He continued: "We are countries that have no interest in taking over other people's real estate, we are countries that have an abiding interest in peace and prosperity, we are countries that want, above all, to be capable and smart enough to invest so that we can contribute to peace and stability in the world and that our people, our populations, our citizens can have the benefits of free political and free economic systems. And those fundamental values and those common interests are critically important to this alliance.... The issue on technology is a gap of investment as the basis problem. The United States has been investing in technologies and a number of other countries have invested less in technologies."

Lord Robertson said at the same press conference: "Threats in the future will not be the kind of threats we had in the past. The idea of large scale tank invasions of European countries is something firmly in the past, but the idea of chemical and biological attacks by states or by terrorists is certainly there.

"We need to assess what the threats are to the safety and security of the people who live in the countries that are members of the Alliance and act appropriately in these circumstances. That us why the toolbox has got to be much bigger than it was in the past, because the range of options have got to be much greater than they were in the past, because the range of threats is going to be much bigger."

For more on this story, please see NATO: Defense Ministers Discuss Antiterror Role.