Tuesday, June 22, 2004

The NATO military alliance is stepping up cooperative efforts to fight terrorism with a plan for new defenses aimed at protecting ports from attack, stopping homemade bombs and creating new methods of sending commandos into hot spots.

The package of programs will be presented at the NATO summit set to begin Monday in Istanbul, and heads of state and defense ministers of the 26 NATO members are likely to approve it, according to a senior alliance official.

“There is a pressing need to combat terrorist organizations and provide the right mix of offensive and defensive capabilities to NATO troops in the field,” the official said.

If formally approved, it will be the first time that NATO has agreed to carry out a collaborative arms and defense development program, the official said.

“The eight measures signal the determination that the alliance has to meet the terrorist threat to the alliance head-on,” said the official, noting that the danger of Islamist and other terrorism is “present and growing.”

The official said the eight-point defense package was developed by NATO’s Conference of National Armaments Directors and includes:

• Reducing the vulnerability of large aircraft to portable missiles.

• Developing countermeasures to improvised explosive devices, such as nerve-gas and car bombs.

• Creating precision air-drop technology that will help NATO commandos conduct pinpoint drops on terrorist targets, such as houses and caves.

• Stepping up defenses at ports and harbors.

• Developing new aircraft defenses for helicopters, such as protecting rotary-wing planes from rocket-propelled grenades.

• Making better detectors, protective gear and equipment, and weapons that can combat chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear bombs.

• Developing new technology for intelligence, reconnaissance, surveillance and apprehension of terrorists.

• Creating new methods of explosive-ordnance disposal and post-attack planning.

Unlike the European Union, whose members are divided over which measures to use in combating terrorism, NATO militaries are united in the new armaments program, the official said.

“The French, Germans and Italians are all good players in this,” he said.

The Italian military is expected to take the lead in protecting harbors and ports from terrorist attacks, and the Spanish are working on systems to defeat improvised bombs.

Slovakia’s military, which specialized in making guns and ammunition when it was part of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact, will team with Norway to work on explosive-ordnance disposal.

The Czech Republic will take the lead on dealing with chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats.

France’s military, which does not contribute to NATO forces, is expected to assist.

The U.S. military will contribute to all eight areas, but is not expected to focus on a single defense capability, the official said.

Alliance leaders also are expected to discuss plans for the NATO mission in Afghanistan, where a force is based in the capital, Kabul.

A NATO role in Iraq also could be on the agenda.

Other key issues will be NATO’s development of a joint missile-defense command structure, the first step in deploying missile defenses to shield NATO troops from missile attacks.

“We’ve now agreed to a detailed technical blueprint for theater missile defense for NATO,” the senior official said. The blueprint is a battle-management system for NATO to use missile defenses in the future.

NATO leaders also will discuss a new allied ground surveillance program, a multibillion-dollar plan to set up a system of unmanned aerial vehicles and aircraft to provide ground targeting data.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in London on Friday that the alliance needs to improve its ability to dispatch forces.

“Missions such as Afghanistan present wholly new challenges in terms of generating forces,” he said. “We have never done anything quite like this before, and it should not be a surprise that there are challenges.”

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