- The Washington Times - Friday, June 7, 2002

NATO must transform itself from a defensive alliance into an offensive force able to head off terrorists and unconventional military threats before they materialize, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told a gathering of NATO defense ministers in Brussels yesterday.
Five months before the NATO summit in Prague, ministers of the 19-nation alliance yesterday reached general agreement on a series of plans to modernize the organization and upgrade its ability to deploy forces outside the traditional European theater.
"If a terrorist can attack at any time and any place using any technique, this is physically impossible to defend," Mr. Rumsfeld told reporters after delivering a private briefing to the assembled defense chiefs.
"One needs to recalibrate the definition of defensive, because truly the only way to defend against individuals or groups or countries that have weapons of mass destruction and are intent on using them is to go out and find those global networks and deal with them as we did in Afghanistan," he added.
Mr. Rumsfeld said the United States was pushing for a leaner headquarters command for NATO capable of rapid response to emerging terrorist threats.
U.S. officials said the defense secretary in the closed-door session indicated European governments and European publics still underestimated the danger posed by terrorists and by rogue states, such as Iraq, seeking biological, chemical and nuclear arsenals.
"The threat is not theoretical. It is real," he said. "And if we do not prepare promptly to counter it, we could well experience attacks in our countries that would make the events of September 11 seem modest by comparison."
Mr. Rumsfeld did not specifically mention a proposed European Union armed force, which was supposed to put its own 60,000-strong rapid-reaction force in place by next year to deal with regional crises and peacekeeping missions. The EU force has been plagued by funding and organizational problems.
But both he and NATO Secretary-General George Robertson have taken European NATO powers to task for failing to spend enough on defense and the modernization of their forces.
The United States spends nearly 3.5 percent of gross domestic product on defense, while the European average is 1.8 percent.
No promises emerged in Brussels on defense spending increases, and the final communique issued by the NATO ministers stopped short of endorsing Mr. Rumsfeld's concept of pre-emptive strikes against terrorists.
"The range of actions which NATO will be able to take in the future in response to terrorism and other challenges will depend on the success of our efforts to modernize the alliance's military capabilities," the communique said.
Mr. Robertson said NATO's new anti-terror role had its limits.
"We are a defensive alliance and we remain a defensive alliance," he told reporters yesterday. "We don't go out looking for problems to solve."
But Mr. Rumsfeld warned that the West did not have the luxury of waiting for "absolute proof" of terrorist threats, especially those involving weapons of mass destruction.


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