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NATO Theme At Prague: Adapting To Meet 21st Century Threats

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 1, 2002 - At the end of the Cold War NATO officials recognized terrorism and weapons of mass destruction as among the top new threats to European - and world - peace, a senior U.S. State Department official noted Sept. 30 in Chicago.

"NATO defined these new threats explicitly" in 1999 when the alliance was developing new strategy for the post-Cold War-era, Undersecretary for Political Affairs Marc Grossman told members of the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations.

Now, he pointed out, NATO is adapting to better prepare for those 21st century threats.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the United States, Grossman explained, the alliance's need to prepare for threats such as oppression, ethnic conflict, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the global spread of weapons technology and terrorism has become ever more urgent.

In meeting those new threats, he said, NATO officials will gather Nov. 21 in Prague, Czech Republic, to discuss key alliance issues of military capabilities, enlargement, and new relationships. President George W. Bush and his counterparts are slated to attend this type of major NATO summit, the first of its kind held in a former Warsaw Pact country.

During informal NATO ministerial meetings held Sept. 24-25 in Warsaw, Poland, Grossman pointed out that U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld proposed NATO develop a rapid response force among other upgrades to its military capabilities to better prepare for the potential threats of terrorism and WMDs.

Rumsfeld, noted Grossman, believes there is "broad and enthusiastic" NATO support for establishing a force capable of responding to threats on short notice, and also capable of deploying outside the alliance's traditional European area of operations.

To fight effectively alongside U.S. troops, NATO forces, like the United States' military, Grossman remarked, must transform to meet new threats of the 21st century. This, he explained, includes overcoming "serious deficiencies" in strategic airlift assets, modern strike capabilities and logistical support for deployed troops.

"Unless the disparity between U.S. and European capabilities is substantially narrowed," Grossman remarked, "the military burden of meeting the new threats we face will continue to fall primarily on the United States, with NATO itself taking on an increasingly secondary role.

"This is not a healthy situation for the alliance," he emphasized, adding that NATO ministers at Prague would also be making decisions regarding the development of missile defenses capable of protecting alliance members from threats of ballistic missiles.

Another goal at Prague is for the 19-member alliance to consider new members, Grossman noted. Nine countries -- Slovenia, Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Albania, Macedonia, Romania, and Bulgaria - - have petitioned to join NATO.

NATO was established in 1949 as a bulwark of freedom in Europe against the Soviet threat. The process of NATO enlargement among Europe's new democracies since 1997 "has fulfilled NATO's promise and brought us closer to completing the vision of NATO's founders of a free and united Europe," Grossman remarked.

A third goal at Prague involves expansion of important new relationships established after the Cold War - most specifically, the important and growing relationship between the alliance and Russia, Grossman noted. For example, the recently created NATO-Russia Council facilitates "joint decisions and actions in areas of concern between NATO and Russia," he explained.

The NATO-Russia Council, he added, enables "Russia to sit at the table on an equal basis with the 19 NATO allies to work on carefully selected projects" of import to those concerned. The council, Grossman explained, provides NATO and Russia the opportunity to cooperate in important areas such as: counter-terrorism, civil emergency preparedness, airspace management, and joint training and exercises.

More than 50 years after its inception, NATO remains "the core of the United States' commitment to Europe, the essential instrument that assures our security and stability, and the essential glue that binds our two peoples together," Grossman remarked.

Today, "NATO continues to renew itself and to adapt to each new challenge that comes its way in a very turbulent and still very dangerous world," he concluded.