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Cohen: Building NATO's Future

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 7, 1998 – U.S. defense officials are developing initiatives to help the North Atlantic Treaty Organization meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen recently hailed NATO's upcoming 50th anniversary summit as "a unique opportunity for us to ensure that history's most stable and successful military alliance will remain strong and effective into the next century."

At the summit, scheduled for April 1999 in Washington, the alliance will admit its first new members since Spain joined in 1982. Ceremonies admitting the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland will bring NATO's membership to 19 nations, each sharing the risks, responsibilities and benefits of collective security. NATO officials point to the alliance's growth and open-door policy toward other new members as examples of how NATO has changed to meet the needs of a new era.

Cohen outlined initiatives U.S. officials are developing for the summit to help transform the alliance. They include setting a vision for the 21st century and adopting an updated Strategic Concept, the document that provides the political and military background for the alliance strategy and guidance to alliance military authorities on how to implement that strategy.

"We need to ensure that our Strategic Concept reflects the challenges the alliance will face in the future and provides the vision to adapt our defense capabilities to meet those challenges," Cohen said.

To this end, U.S. officials recommend that NATO approve a vision of defense capabilities. "The alliance should not face the threats of 2011 with tanks, aircraft, ships and soldiers trained and equipped for combat in 1991," Cohen said. NATO, he said, must develop "mobile, flexible, lethal, sustainable and survivable" forces to deal with the future strategic environment.

The United States also seeks a common operational vision. NATO allies "must share core operational concepts that enable them to work together on the battlefield, behind the lines and in the acquisition processes that put hardware on the field," the secretary said.

Cohen called for setting up a "high level steering group" to coordinate summit initiatives and future efforts. This group would link the Strategic Concept, defense capabilities and operational visions, defense planning, and political and military committee priorities, he said.

U.S. defense officials also aim to launch a weapons of mass destruction initiative to ensure the NATO allies take steps to combat nuclear, biological and chemical weapons as well as terrorism.

"These challenges must be addressed with greater resources and energy, or we run the risk of neglecting the highest stakes threat to our populations," Cohen told his fellow defense ministers.

He called on NATO to enhance public awareness and develop a shared strategic outlook on weapons of mass destruction. NATO needs to support expanded diplomatic nonproliferation efforts through more information sharing, he said. The allied nations need to increase readiness to deal with such weapons and be prepared to respond to attacks on civilian population.

The United States is also developing a counterterrorism initiative involving sharing technology and intelligence, coordinating strategic planning, training and exercises, Cohen said.

Cohen said NATO's strategy for the future should continue this outreach program "to extend stability and security in and around Europe through enlargement and deepened constructive engagement in Partnership for Peace, the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council, the NATO-Ukraine Charter and the Mediterranean Dialogue."

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