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NATO Transforming to Meet 21st Century Threats

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

BERLIN, Sept. 14, 2005 – The NATO Response Force is the touchstone of the alliance's transformation to meet its 21st century threats, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said in a news conference here today.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld gathers documents prior to an informal meeting of NATO defense ministers being held Sept.13-14 in Berlin. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Kevin J. Gruenwald, USAF

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

NATO is "the most successful and enduring political and military alliance in the history of the world," Rumsfeld said. "Our task is to assure that our alliance transforms so that it remains an effective and capable force sufficient to face the new and lethal challenges of the 21st century."

Rumsfeld and other NATO defense ministers met here over the past two days to discuss the way ahead for the alliance and current missions in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq.

A senior U.S. defense official, speaking on background, explained Sept. 13 that the NATO Response Force is "usable to do all the things that NATO for decades didn't have to do."

"The war was going to come to NATO; NATO did not have to go looking for the war," the official told reporters traveling with Rumsfeld. "The NRF is designed to focus NATO on being able to provide that kind of capability, to put NATO in a position where it can be an exporter of security around the globe."

During the meetings, U.S. officials planned to bring up their concerns on "caveats" - conditions individual nations insist be applied in using their forces for NATO missions.

Caveats vary in their limitations and genesis. Examples include more restrictive rules of engagement on the use of force than NATO rules specify, geographic limitations on where troops can operate or where they can fly helicopters, or operational limitations on, for instance, using riot control agents to put down civil disturbances, the U.S. official explained.

Some are constitutional issues for the countries involved, others are less formal and can be in writing or only come to light when troops from a certain country are ordered to perform a specific mission.

The official said such caveats can cause myriad problems for commanders in the field. "A commander on the ground has got to know that when he has a security problem or a stability issue to take care of, he needs to be able to use the forces under his command and they can actually go out there and carry out the mission and not worry about whether there's written or more informal caveats," the official said.

Such caveats limit commanders' flexibility, Rumsfeld said. "Clearly, if you're a NATO commander in command of an operation where there are different rules of engagement and different restrictions on national forces, it makes it enormously difficult for him to command that force," the secretary said Sept. 13 before the NATO meetings.

In a news conference today, Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer noted how transformation of NATO forces is changing operations in Kosovo.

"(Kosovo Force) is restructuring to be more mobile, more flexible and more visible on the ground," Scheffer said, adding there is "no doubt about NATO's resolve to continue to help keep the peace and to create the security and stability."

Rumsfeld noted NATO has undergone "remarkable change" in the previous four years. "Certainly it's come a great distance since I was U.S. ambassador to NATO back in the early 1970s," he added. "But the process of transforming NATO has to continue at a good clip if is to remain a fully effective and truly potent force against the emerging 21st century threats."

He said this "a critical moment for NATO."

"But I'm personally encouraged by the efforts under way to make the alliance an even more flexible and more capable force in the decades to come," Rumsfeld said. "I'm certain that the great democracies of the NATO alliance will continue to play the leading role in contributing to international peace and stability."

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