- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 20, 2002

BRUSSELS NATO this week will transform its mission and command structure, expanding operations into countries from North Africa to the Middle East and South Asia in order to counter new threats such as terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, alliance officials say.
At a two-day summit beginning in Prague tomorrow, the officials say, NATO will move to enhance its military capabilities, invite seven new countries to join and strengthen its relations with nations as far away as the Caucasus and Central Asia.
The alliance will create teams to respond to biological and chemical attacks, as well as a response force of 20,000 able to deploy within seven to 30 days and sustain itself for up to a month. The United States will also ask its allies for support in developing a missile-defense shield, U.S. officials say.
"We are building a new NATO, with different military capabilities and a new mission, which is to go outside the alliance's geographic borders to defend its members," Nicholas Burns, the American ambassador to NATO, said in a telephone interview.
"NATO is becoming the one organization that can integrate the entire Euro-Atlantic world, from the Western reaches of Canada and the United States all the way across to the Russian Far East."
In the largest expansion in its 53-year history, the alliance will extend membership invitations to Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia, senior Western officials said. President Bush made up his mind to support those seven candidates on Friday and informed NATO Secretary-General George Robertson of his decision in a phone call.
Mr. Burns, who visited each of nine candidates, including Albania and Macedonia, three times in the months leading up to the summit, said his delegation was "impressed by their commitment to democracy, the progress they have made since the end of communism and the fact that they are like-minded with the United States."
"The majority of these countries are relatively small, but they have capable militaries and the political will to defend not only themselves but the alliance as well," he said.
Emyr Jones Parry, the British ambassador to NATO, said this round of enlargement is "better prepared" than the last one in 1997, when Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic were invited to join. After those three became members more than three years ago, the alliance issued specific requirements for new applicants in individual documents calls Membership Action Plans.
The nations that will be admitted in Prague were "quite canny in responding to international events," such as NATO's 1999 war with Serbia over Kosovo and last year's campaign against the Taliban, and "genuinely started delivering," Mr. Parry said. Some of them offered use of their airspace and military bases, while others sent troops to Afghanistan.
"During the Cold War, if we added a country, there was one more to defend against the Soviet threat," a senior U.S. official said. But now, a "democratic, reforming and capable new member can be a multiplier for good in the war on terrorism."
"Countries like Bulgaria and Romania are truly capable, militarily," the official said. "The Baltic states have formed their Baltic battalion. It's a small force, but very well-trained and cohesive, and it fits well with ours." So all these contributions will "strengthen our ability to reach our strategic goal: Europe whole, free and at peace."
Mr. Burns said the United States will tell its allies at the summit that the large gap in military capabilities between them and America must be narrowed to avoid having "a two-tier alliance where we are so far ahead of our allies that we can't fight effectively together."
Even if the Europeans do not increase their spending, they "could use their existing defense euros more wisely by providing professional military units with the tools they need to carry out alliance missions, rather than retain static conscript forces," he said.
In Prague, a number of NATO's members will make commitments "to invest in certain military capabilities: strategic lift, precision-guided munitions, air-to-air refueling, sea lift and special forces."
Mr. Parry said it is up to the Europeans, including Britain, "to deliver," and "if we want the phone to ring, we have to be credible."
Although NATO invoked its common-defense Article 5 for the first time immediately after the September 11 attacks last year, the Bush administration decided not to seek the alliance's help in the anti-Taliban campaign, except for Britain's limited assistance. NATO, however, is now fully engaged in peacekeeping in Afghanistan.
In spite of earlier objections to the alliance's expansion to Moscow's doorstep, Russian President Vladimir Putin "realized that he can't prevent it," said Ahmet Uzumcu, the Turkish ambassador to NATO.
Mr. Putin will not attend the Prague summit, but the NATO-Russia Council, which was created earlier this year, will meet at the foreign-minister level.
NATO had also hoped "to announce a new step forward in our relations with Ukraine," but reports that President Leonid Kuchma "approved the sale of a Kolchuga radar system to Iraq has stopped our dialogue with him dead in its tracks," Mr. Burns said.
"Ukraine must cooperate as we respond to this problem," he said. "The U.S. believes NATO should maintain its links with reformers in Ukraine, but we cannot conduct business as usual with leaders who violate United Nations sanctions on Iraq."


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