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10 October 2003

NATO Defense Meetings Show Progress of Military Transformation

Burns says Russia is clearly a partner of NATO

By Jacquelyn S. Porth
Washington File Security Affairs Correspondent

Colorado Springs, Colorado -- At the conclusion of an intense round of meetings that were part of the informal NATO defense ministerial meeting in Colorado Springs, U.S. Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns said the United States expressed its support for the alliance's decision in principle to extend International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) activities to regions outside of Kabul.

Speaking to reporters at an October 9 press conference, Burns said the broader peacekeeping responsibilities for the ISAF in Afghanistan, which would include having German forces move into the northern city of Kunduz, would help to support the Karzai government. The ISAF mission in Afghanistan is currently being led by NATO.

Burns also said the October 8-9 meetings revealed significant support by allies for ongoing peacekeeping missions in Iraq. The United States is very pleased, for example, by the Turkish government's decision to deploy military forces to Iraq, Burns said.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who hosted the ministerial, came away from the session with the sense that "NATO has been transformed militarily," Burns said. Burns noted that it was Rumsfeld who only a year ago proposed a far-reaching transformation agenda that included forming a NATO Response Force (NRF). Now, there are significant accomplishments to point to, including a new allied command structure as well as the new Allied Command Transformation (ACT) located in Norfolk, Virginia, under the leadership of Navy Admiral Edmund Giambastiani. And lastly, there is the planned activation of the lead element of the NRF in the Netherlands on October 15.

As outgoing NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson put it in his concluding press conference: "Transformation is now truly the central pillar of NATO's future effectiveness."

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, at his October 9 press conference, expressed gratitude to Rumsfeld for inviting him to visit the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) headquarters in Colorado Springs. Ivanov said that Russia and NATO face similar problems ranging from countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to military reform to becoming more agile and responsive to modern threats. He also said that Russia is looking at the subject of theater missile defense with the United States and, separately, with NATO.

Burns said Russia made clear in the meetings that it wants to have "a very close relationship with NATO." He also said that Ivanov described press reporting on Russian nuclear ambitions as "erroneous." The ambassador said he heard no negative intentions expressed at all by Ivanov, and that both the tone and substance of the discussions were positive.

One of the main challenges facing the ministers at the conclusion of their Colorado Springs meeting is how to pursue a cooperative, not competitive, relationship between NATO and the European Union (EU). A senior U.S. administration official said that of the 25 countries attending an EU conference in Rome in September, 21 said they wanted to maintain the NATO-EU relationship and not create separate defense capabilities. "The great majority of them want a continuing vibrant relationship with the United States based in NATO," he said.

Additionally, Robertson said that following the Colorado Springs meeting, NATO faces "a new comprehensive program of work that will include an end-to-end review of decisionmaking, an overhaul of our force generation process and a range of new output measures to increase usability across the board."

This is an alliance, Robertson added, that is tasked with "ensuring stability and safety from the Straits of Gibraltar through the Balkans to Afghanistan." And, he said, NATO does its job well. "Just ask those who benefit from the NATO patrol in the Mediterranean, ask the people of Bosnia and Kosovo who are at last able to live in peace."

Attendees at the Colorado Springs meeting included ministers from NATO's 19 members: 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 present were representatives of the seven nations that have been invited to join NATO in the spring -- Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia -- and Russia, a NATO partner.