NATO Still Vital
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
BRUSSELS, Dec. 19, 1996 Although some thought the end of the Cold War would lead to NATO's demise, the military alliance is stronger than ever, according to U.S. Defense Secretary William J. Perry.
Major changes have occurred in the 16-nation alliance in the last three years, Perry said on the eve of two days of meetings at NATO headquarters here Dec. 17 and 18. Instead of becoming a Cold War relic, NATO stepped into the future when officials began addressing postCold War security issues in 1994.
NATO heads of state launched Partnership for Peace and the combined joint task force concept at the 1994 summit. They agreed to enlarge NATO in a way that would not threaten Russia and began counterproliferation efforts. They also agreed to begin a dialogue with Russia and find a way to "fix" Bosnia, Perry said.
Partnership for Peace has made "stunning" progress in the three years since the summit, Perry said. Membership has grown to 27 nations and hundreds of partnership exercises and activities are being held, he said. The partnership's success was particularly evident when 16 partner nations rallied and joined IFOR in Bosnia, Perry said.
"The operation in Bosnia is the strongest example of how Europe can work with the United States to try to deal with very difficult security problems in Europe," he said. "The fact that we had excercised with those nations before made a big difference in how effectively we were able to integrate those nations into this very large operation."
Russia's membership in Partnership for Peace and in operations in Bosnia also have somewhat helped reduce Russia's fear of NATO enlargement, Perry said. Russian Defense Minister Igor Rodionov was scheduled to meet with NATO ministers Dec. 18.
NATO's efforts to "fix" Bosnia have restored the organization's vital role in European security, Perry said. NATO provided leadership for a peace agreement and sent an implementation force to enforce the peace.
"This has been a remarkable and a dramatic development," Perry said, "which has put NATO back in the central position of effecting, in the most relevant way possible, the security of Europe."
Although sending IFOR was controversial and lacked consensus, Perry said, the decision to continue NATO's peace enforcement mission by sending a stabilization force for 18 months was approved unanimously. "It is a remarkable development showing the unity that NATO has in dealing with this extremely significant and important element."
Bosnia operations demonstrated NATO and Partnership for Peace nations could unite for a common cause. While NATO officials theorized about the combined joint task force concept, military leaders in Bosnia put the idea into practice, Perry said.
"We then came back to our NATO meetings and said, now that we have seen an example of how to do it, maybe we can draft the theory to fit the practical case," he said. NATO officals approved an implementation plan for the combined joint task force Dec. 17.
During meetings, NATO officials continued discussing plans to restructure the alliance, but did not discuss the question regarding command of Allied Forces South. A senior U.S. official said the United States refuses to budge from its position that a U.S. officer should hold the post while France wants a French officer in the job. U.S. officials said they believe the dispute will be resolved in the future.
NATO officials agreed to a set of counterproliferation goals aimed at stopping the growing, potential problem of chemical and biological weapons, a senior U.S. defense official said. NATO ministers said it will be increasingly important for NATO military forces to be able to operate in a chemical and biological warfare environment, and it is essential to increase their capability to do so.
NATO officials approved a series of goals to combat countries that may be developing missiles capable of delivering chemical and biological weapons. These range from improving intelligence capabilities, detection of agents, vaccine availability and direct defense measures, the official said.
NATO officials noted the nuclear weapons left behind in Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine have been removed. They also discussed the need to continue working to reduce Russia's tactical theater missiles.
Regarding NATO enlargement, senior U.S. officials said plans call for NATO to issue membership invitations at a summit slated in July 1997.