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08 October 2003

Rumsfeld: Colorado Seminar Providing Key NATO Defense Insights

Roberston says NATO transformation must be completed

By Jacquelyn S. Porth
Washington File Security Affairs Correspondent

Colorado Springs, Colorado -- NATO country ministers of defense, chiefs of defense and NATO ambassadors gathered October 8 to examine for the first time how the new NATO Response Force (NRF) might deal with future asymmetric threats such as terrorism and weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who is hosting the two-day informal NATO defense ministerial in Colorado, told reporters that the ministers took part in a study seminar -- held at the Joint National Integration Center at the nearby Schriever Air Force Base -- that focused on the importance of the NRF and the need for NATO's continuing transformation. The five and a half hour seminar, entitled "Dynamic Response '07," was designed to help update NATO's decisionmaking structures, according to the secretary, who described the outcome as "very informative."

Rumsfeld, who is himself a former U.S. Ambassador to NATO, said the notion was to challenge the participants with hypothetical and realistic scenarios in an effort to provoke discussions that would lead to a sharing of insights among the attendees. NATO Secretary General Lord George Robertson, who shared the podium with Rumsfeld, said the ultimate message of the October 8-9 meetings will be that alliance transformation will require "real deployable soldiers, not paper armies."

Robertson said the seminar led the political and military officials to a common set of understandings, for instance, that future crises facing NATO will require prompt decisionmaking in members' capitals and that advanced planning, including establishing rules of engagement, can help expedite responses. He also said it is clear that crises that may start small can quickly escalate and NATO has to be more flexible to achieve its preferred outcome.

Additionally, the NATO Secretary General said the seminar exercise, which was set in the year 2007, drove home the point that better intelligence gathering, analysis and sharing is needed within the alliance at all stages of future operations. Robertson also said it is important for NATO to have good, practical relations with the United Nations, the European Union, and other multilateral organizations and countries in the regions of crisis.

Finally, Robertson said that alliance success requires NATO to have the ability to explain its actions clearly to its publics and that the alliance transformation process must be completed fully. Transformation, he said, "is not just some buzz word."

Officials attending the informal defense ministerial represent Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States. Also attending as observers are representatives of the seven countries that have been invited to join the alliance: Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. Representatives of Russia and the European Union also are present and participating in some, but not all, of the scheduled events.

A senior NATO staff officer attending the meetings said transformation is critical to alliance success. "We just couldn't afford to stand still," he said. Transformation means adapting to unexpected challenges, the officer said, and it requires NATO to adopt "a new mindset."

Transformation is a process, he said, describing it as a journey and "not a destination." It will require innovation and risks, the officer said, as the alliance seeks to change its culture, doctrine, and equipment. Transformation, he said, is all about winning faster, cheaper, and with fewer casualties.

NATO defense ministers approved the NATO Response Force (NRF) in Brussels last June. It is the centerpiece of the alliance's transformation. The force will be activated in October 2004, but will not be fully operational until October 2006. It will be tailored to the needs of any specific future mission and will move to whatever location may be required.

The capabilities of the new NRF will allow NATO to become more relevant in the new security environment, a NATO military officer said during a background briefing October 8. In the past, he said, NATO grew too large and became too static. Now, he said, it needs speed, power, endurance and interoperability to deal with the new threats. As conceived, the NRF will be able to meet a full range of missions from low to high intensity.

The NRF will be able to deploy in as few as five days and will be self-sustaining for up to a month, the official said. Two prototypes will be organized shortly with a pool of capable forces. The first will have about 6,000 troops assigned to it. Troops will rotate in and out after six months. In its early form, he said, it will have the ability to be deployed for "low-end type missions" such as evacuations.

When the NRF reaches full strength it will include some 20,000 military personnel capable of handling air, land and sea missions. But one official warned that although the NRF will be a valuable alliance tool, it will not be "a panacea."

The official refused to provide national breakdowns of troops to be assigned to early NRF duties. They are NATO forces "first and foremost," he emphasized. The ultimate role of the NRF, the official said, is to respond to crises. "It's not about pre-emption," he said in response to a variety of questions from reporters.

There was considerable curiosity about the hypothetical scenario used for the study seminar that modeled the deployment of the NRF. NATO officials, who spoke on condition that they not be identified, described the setting as an evacuation mission in a country like Liberia, Sierra Leone or the Central African Republic. The situation gradually deteriorated in such a way, one official said, that additional decisions were required.

But the purpose of the seminar, which used video clips rather than paper presentations to bring a sense of realism to the proceedings, was not to reach specific decisions or conclusions, but rather to provoke creative thought. One official who was present said "Everybody put a lot in and got a lot out of it."

Those participating were able to agree on certain parameters, one official said. They agreed, for example, on the importance of identifying in advance who should participate at a national level in key crisis management decisions. They also talked about how "to dovetail political decisions with military planning" in a way that would eliminate any time delays. They acknowledged the importance of obtaining legal advice and devising an effective communications strategy.

NATO officials will continue their deliberations October 9 with a special focus on Russia. There will be a working lunch with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov. And there will be a NATO-Russian Council meeting.