'National Caveats' Among Key Topics at NATO Meeting
By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
NICE, France, Feb. 9, 2005 Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld today likened some NATO operations to a basketball team that practices together for months, only to have some players refuse to participate when the game starts.
Restrictions some countries place on how NATO can use their forces known as "national caveats" are among the major topics under discussion at the informal meeting of NATO defense ministers here this week, Rumsfeld told reporters in his traveling party.
Caveats present "a quite complex problem for the NATO commander" running an operation, the secretary said.
Countries in the alliance have officers assigned to NATO headquarters, he explained. "They learn to function as a team, and they work together. And then when the heads of state decide that NATO is going to do something the people from their countries serving in those headquarters have been practicing as a team with the others," Rumsfeld said. "And therefore, when the decision is made, they have to be willing to engage."
In Iraq, however, a few countries have indicated that their forces cannot participate in some aspects of the operations, he added.
"That's an issue that NATO has to think through very carefully," the secretary said. "It's kind of like having a basketball team, and they practice and practice and practice for six months. When it comes to game time, one or two say, 'We're not going to play.' Well, that's fair enough. Everyone has a free choice. But you don't have a free choice if you've practiced for all those months. So we're going to have to find a way to manage our way through that."
Discussions of NATO's transformation also will highlight the meeting, Rumsfeld said, especially in terms of the NATO Response Force and the usability and deployability of NATO forces, and the effort to find metrics to do a better job of measuring usability "so that each country can improve its circumstance."
The secretary said the NATO defense ministers also will discuss organizational reform in the alliance's international bureaucracy and committee structure and current NATO operations.
"If you think about it, just a few years ago, the idea that NATO would have operations in Kosovo and Afghanistan and Iraq would be beyond belief, but it is a fact," he said. "and they will be important topics of conversation. That says a great deal about this institution."
Between his arrival this morning and his late-afternoon meeting with reporters, the secretary visited the USS O'Bannon, a Navy destroyer anchored offshore, and participated in bilateral meetings with his counterparts from Romania and Spain. Afterward, he was scheduled to meet with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and participate in a working dinner.