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NATO Countries Need to 'Generate More Usable Soldiers'

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 9, 2003 – NATO countries need to "generate more usable soldiers and have the political will to deploy" them, the international body's secretary-general said Oct. 8.

"We need real, deployable soldiers, not paper armies," Secretary-General George Robertson said in a Colorado Springs, Colo., press conference with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. Robertson, Rumsfeld and defense ministers from other NATO countries are meeting there this week.

The secretary-general noted that the 18 non-American NATO allies have 1.4 million soldiers under arms. Of those, 55,000 -- just fewer than 4 percent -- are deployed on multinational operations in the Balkans, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Still, he said, these countries claim to be stretched too thin.

"One-point-four million in uniform, 55,000 in operations. That equals overstretched?" Robertson said in exasperation. "That is a situation that is unacceptable."

He explained the issue is not more soldiers, it's more of the right types of soldiers. Besides their 1.4 million active soldiers, non-U.S. NATO countries have a million reservists. The problem is how they're configured.

Most service members in non-U.S. NATO countries are configured for territorial defense, "when there is no extraterritorial enemy," Robertson said.

"So long as you have so many unusable soldiers, the taxpayers are being ripped off," he continued. "It is a bad bargain for the taxpayers when they expect useable, deployable, survivable, well-equipped troops to be available to deal with each and every crisis they are called upon to deal with, and yet we don't have them."

He said many of the defense ministers attending this informal ministerial conference "are willing to make the changes" required for their forces to be more deployable. NATO defense ministers, joined by Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Ivanov, are seeking solutions.

"That's transformation," Robertson said. "That's what it's all about."

During the press conference, Rumsfeld refuted a reporter's suggestion that NATO countries have responded poorly to American requests for more troops in Iraq.

"You're wrong. The response has been excellent," he told the reporter, noting that 12 of the 18 non-U.S. NATO allies have troops in Iraq or are planning to send some. "So all of this myth about poor response and (the United States) going it alone is simply that: a myth."

Rumsfeld also noted that NATO forces have taken over command of the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul, Afghanistan. This marks the first time NATO has sent troops outside the organization's treaty area.

"This is a huge commitment," the secretary said. "That is a big thing. That is, to me, something that ought to be noted."

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