- The Washington Times - Friday, October 4, 2002

BRUSSELS NATO Secretary-General George Robertson yesterday painted a bleak future for the alliance with more terrorism, failed states and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction that can only be avoided by an improvement in the militaries of the alliance's members.

Speaking at a conference looking into the challenges facing the alliance, Mr. Robertson said crises in the Caucasus, Central Asia, Northern Africa and the Middle East offered a "rich current and potential cocktail of instability."

Noting that all the regions were going through "political and economic transitions of historic dimensions," the NATO chief said, "Only the most blinkered optimist would argue that this process of change will happen without major convulsions."

Taken together, the threats posed by terrorists, failed states and "more fingers on more triggers" ensured a "guaranteed supply chain of instability," he said.

While conceding he was painting a "bleak picture" of the world, he said he remained optimistic that the challenges could be overcome if NATO members improved their armed forces.

"We need capabilities for the future, not for the past we need forces that are slimmer, tougher and faster; forces that reach further and can stay in the field longer," he said.

Throwing his weight behind U.S. calls for a NATO rapid-reaction force, the former British defense minister said that in the "uncomfortable security environment" of the future "geography will no longer act as our shield."

However, in a coded signal to Washington, Mr. Robertson cautioned against adopting a unilateral approach to crises.

"In today's world, no country can ensure its security entirely on its own. You need allies. You need partners," he said. "You must stand together against terror, consult on threats, coordinate responses, share risks and burdens."

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, a former NATO secretary-general, also pleaded for greater cooperation between the European Union and the United States.

"For us Europeans, multilateralism is our life. We are not multilateralists because we are naive, but because we know the alternative is war," Mr. Solana said.

Expressing doubts about the creation of a NATO rapid-reaction force, Mr. Solana argued that the 19-member alliance was a defensive rather than an offensive body. He also took issue with President Bush's goal of toppling Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

"We are not for regime change but we are as committed as the U.S. to ridding the world of weapons of mass destruction," Mr. Solana said.

NATO officials told United Press International that Mr. Robertson's stark warning was meant as a wake-up call to European governments reluctant to spend more on defense.

"You can't walk around with your hands in front of your eyes pretending problems aren't out there," one official said.

At a post-conference briefing, Mr. Robertson told reporters that European leaders had to close the capabilities gap between the old and new continents.

"Nothing comes for nothing," he said. "You have to go out and sell costly and sometimes unpalatable measures today to get solutions for tomorrow."

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