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03 October 2003

NATO Defense Ministers Meeting to Discuss Operations, Transformation

"Study seminar" will engage both ministers and defense chiefs

By Jacquelyn S. Porth
Washington File Staff Security Affairs Writer

Washington -- Defense ministers and chiefs of defense from 19 NATO countries will be hosted in Colorado Springs October 8 and 9 by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for informal meetings to discuss current out-of-area peacekeeping operations and how the alliance must transform itself to meet future challenges.

"NATO is very important to us," a senior Defense Department official says, especially because "it is very much on the frontline of the global war on terrorism", and because the focus of the alliance is no longer limited to "its traditional geographic domain, which was Europe and North America."

Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon October 3, the official noted that the alliance remains a central pillar of "U.S. foreign and defense policy in the transatlantic region." NATO is in the throes of an historic transformation process, he said, making this an important meeting because, "it will help to determine the course of those alliance transformation initiatives into the next several years."

The official said the meeting will provide an opportunity "to illuminate some of the issues that will arise from the creation of the NATO Response Force" that is expected to stand-up in June 2004 but will not be fully operational until 2006. The North Americans and Europeans "need to do a better job of developing not only more deployable forces," he said, "but forces that can deploy more quickly" and in a more agile fashion.

The meeting's agenda, which he described as "heavy," is not expected to result in any decisions but will be an opportunity for the ministers and their defense chiefs to discuss peacekeeping operations in Kosovo and Bosnia, NATO's lead role in the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, and the alliance's support for stabilization and reconstruction efforts in Iraq.

The official said he expects the discussion on Iraq to embrace a variety of views on the ground situation there and the progress that is being made there. "I think we've gotten very good support from our NATO allies in Iraq," the official noted.

A new event, described as a "study seminar," is being introduced at the ministerial. The classified exercise, which will focus on a fictional scenario, is designed "to stimulate a discussion on the implications of the current security environment," the official said, "and how quickly crises can emerge and ...change." It will be held at the Joint National Integration Center at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado.

The concept of the study seminar was initiated, the official said, because NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson wants "to try to reinvigorate the NATO meetings and make them more meaningful" and "more useful to the ministers."

The discussions that will be prompted by the as yet unknown scenario are expected to prompt an examination of NATO's decision-making processes at both the political and military levels, according to the official. They will try to draw some lessons from what they learn from it, he added.

In addition to these activities, there will be a North Atlantic Council Meeting, a NATO-Russia Council meeting, and various bilateral meetings which are expected with Russia and the United Kingdom.

This will be Robertson's last informal NATO defense ministerial. Dutch Foreign Minister J.G. de Hoop Scheffer will replace Robertson as secretary general in December. The briefer said the new NATO secretary general will be "a great promoter of transatlantic relations," adding, "he certainly enjoys the trust of everyone in the U.S. government."

The last U.S. hosted informal NATO defense ministerial meeting took place in Williamsburg, Virginia in 1995.