- The Washington Times - Friday, April 26, 2002

NATO plans substantial cuts in the size of its Balkans peacekeeping missions, including a reduction by nearly a third in the security force in Bosnia-Herzegovina, German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping said yesterday.

Mr. Scharping, in town this week for meetings with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other administration and congressional leaders, said ministers from the 19-nation alliance are ready to sign off by the end of next month on a 20 percent to 30 percent cut in the NATO-led security force in Bosnia, while streamlining the companion mission in Kosovo.

U.S. and NATO troops have been stationed in the volatile region since the outbreak of ethnic conflicts in the mid-1990s, climaxing in NATO's 11-week air war against Yugoslavia over Kosovo.

Facing the demands of the post-September 11 global war on terrorism, the Pentagon has been eager to free up U.S. forces for the fighting in Afghanistan and elsewhere, but Mr. Scharping said at a breakfast meeting with reporters yesterday he was confident the United States was not pulling out of the Balkans mission.

The principle of "in together, out together" for the region "still holds from everything I was told, both publicly and privately," Mr. Scharping said.

Discussing another peacekeeping mission, Mr. Scharping argued it was essential for the international security force now in Afghanistan to remain for an extended period as the interim government in Kabul struggles to assert its authority beyond the capital.

Germany is taking a lead role in building up the new government's police force, but the government of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder quashed early speculation that Germany would take over the command of the international security force as a whole.

Mr. Scharping called Afghanistan a "complex case," where the allies are trying to "support the process of nation building and fight terrorism at the same time in the same country."

But, he added, "if Afghanistan is not a success story, who will be encouraged? It will be all the wrong forces, of radicalism, Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism."

NATO will hold a major summit in November in Prague, a gathering that is expected to include a new round of enlargement into Eastern Europe, while charting a new core strategic mission and redefining relations with Russia.

The German minister said he expected the alliance to accept new members in Prague, but added NATO had to face several fundamental questions even as it expanded.

A more important question than who is accepted will be strengthening the decision-making procedures for the alliance as it exists now, he said.

"We cannot make NATO into an institution that is always debating its own enlargement," he said. "NATO is not a social club."

He declined to say which of the nine NATO hopefuls Germany will support for membership, saying that both military capabilities and political factors will play a role. He noted that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) already provides a broader forum in which the continent's security issues can be aired, while NATO has a more defined military role.

"We already have one OSCE. We do not need a second one," he said.

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