- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 25, 2002

WARSAW America's NATO allies gave broad support yesterday to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's plans for a new multinational response force to strike quickly against threats from terrorists or renegade states.
Diplomats said the overwhelming majority of the 19 NATO defense ministers backed the plan, which is part of a military makeover to ensure an alliance set up 53 years ago to fight the Cold War remains relevant in the post-September 11 era.
"If NATO does not have a force that is quick and agile, which can deploy in days or weeks, instead of months or years, then it will not have much to offer the world in the 21st century," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
The force is expected to be operational within two years, pending final approval at a NATO summit in November in the Czech capital of Prague.
The force is expected to comprise elite air, land and sea forces from Europe and North America, with core units ready to deploy within a week to tackle threats beyond NATO's home ground.
"We're talking about forces that would be aggressive fighting troops, self-sustaining and able to operate in a hostile climate," a NATO official said on the condition of anonymity.
Allies would assign units on a rotation using existing forces so as not to place too great a strain on defense budgets, officials said.
Opening the two-day meeting, NATO Secretary-General George Robertson said the alliance had to act quickly to refocus its military so it can "root out and destroy" terrorist threats.
"NATO played a key role in defeating the threats of the Cold War," Mr. Robertson said. "We must now transform our alliance so that it can play an equally pivotal part in the war against terrorism and the dangers of weapons of mass destruction."
Although NATO is not expected to take a direct role in any military action against Iraq, tensions within the alliance over how to deal with President Saddam Hussein overshadowed the meeting.
Many allies are uneasy about prospects of a U.S.-led attack, and Germany has expressed outright opposition, prompting an acrimonious exchange between Washington and Berlin.
Mr. Rumsfeld on Monday said the tone of the election campaign that returned Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to power Sunday had poisoned relations. Pointedly, Mr. Rumsfeld and German Defense Minister Peter Struck did not speak at a NATO photo opportunity despite standing near each other.
Mr. Struck played down the differences. "Yesterday, I shook Rumsfeld's hand, but this has to become more intensive," he told reporters. "I think we'll return to a very normal working relationship, slowly but surely."
In a move that could help soothe relations, Mr. Struck said Germany and the Netherlands were ready to take command of International Security Assistance Force in the Afghan capital, Kabul, when Turkey's mandate expires at the end of the year.
The United States is eager to see European allies take on such roles in an alliance under which America spends 85 percent more on defense than the other 18 allies combined.
With the aftermath of September 11 revealing deep weaknesses in their military capacity, several European allies have reversed years of defense cuts.
The two-day meeting in the Polish capital is the first by NATO defense ministers in one of the three former Warsaw Pact nations that joined the alliance in 1999: Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. The November summit is expected to invite up to seven other formerly communist nations to join the alliance.

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