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FEATURE ARTICLE  

 Europe-Based NATO Reaches Deep into Asia, Africa  

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 By Harold Kennedy

 

U.S. and allied military forces in Europe-grappling with a lengthy, global war on terrorism-are expanding their reach far beyond their traditional perimeters, deep into Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa.

Both the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the U.S. European Command are "undergoing the most fundamental change in their history" in response to the war on terrorism, U.S. Marine Gen. James Jones recently told defense writers in Washington, D.C. He acknowledged, however, that NATO's efforts in particular are being slowed by a lack of resources.

Jones is both NATO's supreme allied commander, Europe, and the head of the European Command.

"There's been a change in our cultural mindset that is as important as our changing physical capability," Jones said. "We have a more rapid decision-making capability and more expeditionary forces."

This past fall, the new NATO Response Force, or NRF, conducted its first two operations, humanitarian missions to airlift assistance for victims of the earthquake in Pakistan and Hurricane Katrina.

The NRF was established in 2003 as an elite force of land, air, sea and commando components that can deploy quickly anywhere in the world. When it reaches full operational capability in October, plans call for it to number 21,000 troops and be able to deploy with five days' notice.

In Afghanistan, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force gradually is assuming responsibility for establishing order throughout the country.

ISAF is scheduled this month to take over responsibility for the southern region of the country. ISAF has 8,000 combat troops from 36 nations.

NATO has declined to contribute combat forces in Iraq, but it has begun training Iraqi security officers. In September, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop raised the alliance's flag over the organization's new training mission headquarters inside Baghdad's international zone. In that facility, NATO intends to train approximately 700 Iraqi officers this year. Several hundred more will be trained in Europe. The alliance also is providing military equipment to Iraq, including 77 Hungarian T-72 battle tanks.

In North Africa, NATO is supporting the African Union peacekeeping mission to Darfur, Sudan. In September, the North Atlantic Council, which sets NATO policy, decided to continue airlifting African Union peacekeepers into Darfur until March 31.

In nearby Kosovo, nearly 18,000 NATO troops, including 1,800 Americans, continue to enforce compliance with peace agreements.

At the same time, NATO is continuing to seek new members. According to the North Atlantic Treaty, which established the organization, current members can agree to extend membership to any European state in a position to further the organization's principles and to contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area.

Since NATO was founded in 1949, it has grown from 12 nations to 26 today. Seven joined in 2004. Four, including Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia, were former Soviet satellites. Three-Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania-were previously part of the Soviet Union. Now three more former communist states, Albania, Croatia and the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, are lining up to join.

In addition, 10 defense ministers from NATO countries in October met in Vilnius, Lithuania, with representatives from Ukraine-once the breadbasket of the Soviet Union-to encourage that country to make the kinds of reforms that will enable it to join. These include a move to reduce military conscription, an increase in professional, volunteer forces, and a heavier emphasis on training for enlisted personnel, noncommissioned and staff officers.

To increase cooperation with still more nations-some of whom are interested in joining NATO eventually and others who simply share some strategic interests-the alliance has established an organization called the Partnership for Peace. Since it was created a decade ago, 30 countries have joined the partnership, and of those, 10 have gone on to join NATO. Several of the partnership nations, such as Ireland, Sweden and Switzerland, are non-aligned. Others, including Azerbaijan, Belarus, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and even Russia, are former Soviet Republics.

While Russia participates in many of these activities, it views NATO's reach into its traditional sphere of influence with distrust. As a counterweight, in 1996 it joined with China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to form the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. In 2001, they added Uzbekistan to the group.

The organization apparently is having some success. In July 2005, Uzbek President Islam Karimov gave U.S. forces six months to leave Karshi-Khanabad, a local air base that the United States had used to support military operations in Afghanistan.

For its part, NATO's military side-operating from Supreme Headquarters, Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) in Mons, Belgium-welcomes the willingness of the organization's political leaders to expand its activities, Jones said, but a way must be found to pay for the new operations.

"There's more of a political will to take on more missions," he said. "At the same time, there's less of a will to resource missions."

At the 2002 NATO summit in Prague, he noted, the alliance agreed that member nations would fund their defense budgets at least to 2 percent of their gross domestic product. U.S. defense spending amounts to about 3 percent of GDP.

The problem is that many nations, especially newer, poorer NATO members, cannot afford to spend that much on defense. Latvia, for example, allocates only 1.3 percent of its GDP for defense.

"The old metric used to be if you supplied a force, troops, equipment [for a NATO operation], you paid for it," Jones said. "Some nations feel they can't afford that. . Frankly, that issue needs to be addressed."

Finding enough troops is not a problem, Jones said. European nations currently have 2.4 million men and women in uniform, he noted. That's almost twice as many as U.S. active-duty personnel. Many of the European troops, however, are poorly trained conscripts outfitted with Cold War-era weapons and equipment. Modern aircraft and ships to deploy them quickly are in short supply.

NATO's reaction force is intended, in part, to address this issue, Jones said. "Now we're working on how to pay for it."

The North Atlantic Council, in Brussels, has been discussing ways to increase the common funding paid by all member nations to support ongoing operations, Jones said. All members already contribute to a common fund to pay for assets used in NATO missions.

Under current rules, procuring equipment for NATO can be time-consuming, since each acquisition must be competed in all member nations, Jones said. "It took two years to get blue-force tracking in Kosovo," Jones said. "This needs to change."

Some NATO officials argue that the common funding also needs to be increased to help pay the costs for those countries that are willing to deploy troops and equipment. Also, they assert, NATO's response force has been designed to move quickly and needs an equally rapid means of funding.

Another issue that needs attention, Jones said, is control over rules of engagement during NATO deployments. Currently, participating nations are free to set "caveats" on how their forces may be used.

"That means that any nation is free to change the rules of engagement at any time," he said. The results, he said, are unnecessary complications for commanders. That is particularly true in Afghanistan, where U.S. officers would like to see NATO's rules changed to allow its commanders to have greater control over their troops and to use more force.

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