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Rumsfeld Praises NATO's Transformation, Progress

By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service

BRUSSELS, Belgium, Dec. 1, 2003 – Praising the alliance's transformation to meet its 21st century challenges, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said here today that the United States supports an expanded role for NATO, especially in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Rumsfeld met with reporters at NATO headquarters, where he's attending a conference of the alliance's defense ministers.

The steps NATO has taken in the last two years reflect more positive change for the alliance than any previous 10-year period in its history, Rumsfeld said. He cited the creation of the NATO response force and the new biological, chemical, radiological and nuclear defense battalion that attained its initial operational status today as examples of the alliance's progress. Transformation of NATO's command structure reducing its number of commands by about half and the ongoing streamlining of its headquarters staff are other positive developments, he added.

As NATO transforms itself, Rumsfeld said, its emphasis on capabilities is right on the mark. "The more the United States has looked at our circumstances, and the more NATO has looked at NATO's circumstance," Rumsfeld said, "we have tended to move toward a capabilities-based approach." He said this involves a totally different brand of thinking from the traditional emphasis on numbers of troops and munitions.

"The real world today is that a single precision bomb can do what six, eight or 10 'dumb' bombs can do," the secretary said. "If you have 10 dumb bombs and you reduce them by five and replace them with five smart bombs, the idea that you've cut your capability in half is nonsense. You've actually vastly increased your capability." Speed and flexibility are more important than mass, he said, and he praised NATO for moving aggressively in that direction.

The alliance's relatively low number of deployable forces is a problem, he said, especially as the alliance discusses taking on more missions. As NATO prepares for its upcoming summit meeting, scheduled for Istanbul in May 2004, Rumsfeld said member nations must address the problem by eliminating forces that are unusable against 21st-century threats and seeing that the savings are re- invested into needed allied capabilities.

Rumsfeld said the work of the alliance's International Security Assistance Force operating in the Afghan capital of Kabul -- NATO's first foray into operating outside its treaty area has gone well. He added the alliance has agreed to expand that role with more provincial reconstruction teams elsewhere in the country. He also said preliminary conceptual discussions have begun about NATO possibly taking the lead role in Afghanistan military operations.

Noting that NATO also is supporting the Polish-and- Spanish-led division in Iraq and that many NATO countries have sent troops to Iraq, Rumsfeld said the United States supports an expanded role for NATO in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

With speculation abounding over a meeting last week of the European Union in Naples, Italy, Rumsfeld didn't take the bait when reporters pressed him for an opinion on a EU mutual defense and planning function separate from NATO. The secretary said he knows of no decisions made at the EU meeting in that regard. He also noted he's confident the EU would not do anything to duplicate NATO capabilities or compete with the alliance. Earlier, NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson emphatically expressed the same point of view.

The secretary thanked Robertson for his "remarkable leadership" during his four-year term, which ends in five weeks, calling the former British defense minister "a steady hand and force for positive change."

The defense ministers will wrap up their conference Dec. 2.

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