NATO Prepares for Future Challenges
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 26, 1999 Rogue dictators, chemical attack, terrorist bombs -- preventive defense is the name of the game. The United States and its NATO allies are determined to be ready for any contingency.
Even as NATO honored its past and dealt with the present crisis in Kosovo, the alliance turned to face the future during its 50th anniversary summit here April 23 to 25. NATO's 19 nations released a new strategic concept, along with a membership action plan and initiatives to enhance defense capabilities and deal with weapons of mass destruction.
"For five years now, we have been working to build a new NATO, prepared to deal with the security challenges of the new century," President Clinton told reporters April 24. "Today we reaffirmed our readiness, in appropriate circumstances, to address regional and ethnic conflicts beyond the territory of NATO members," he said.
The president said NATO's new strategic concept specifically endorses actions such as those NATO is now undertaking in Kosovo.
"The crisis in Kosovo has underscored the importance of NATO and the imperative of modernizing the alliance for 21st century challenges," he told his NATO counterparts at the opening of an April 23 North Atlantic Council meeting. "Today, we will embrace a comprehensive plan to do just that so that NATO can advance security and freedom for another 50 years. In preparing NATO for the 21st century, we will make our alliance even stronger."
The allies have created a "new, stronger, even better" alliance, according to NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana. The main element is NATO's new strategic concept, which sets forth NATO's role in Euro-Atlantic security and provides a framework for alliance military planners. This is the sixth time the fundamental document has been updated; the last time was in 1991.
The 1999 version underscores the core collective defense mission, Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. It reaffirms NATO's determination to strengthen defense capabilities by ensuring allied forces are able to engage on a full spectrum of missions.
Along with improving NATO's ability to address conflicts beyond its borders, the concept aims to enhance NATO's ability to protect its citizens from terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. It calls for helping new members join the alliance and for deepening partnerships with other nations, including Ukraine and Russia. "We want Russia to be our partner in finding solutions to the regional crisis in the Euro-Atlantic area," Solana said.
With the recent admission of three new members and the promise of maintaining an open door, nine more nations are already seeking admittance to the Euro-Atlantic security organization. At the summit, NATO announced a new membership action plan designed to help aspiring countries prepare to meet membership requirements. It outlines what NATO expects of new members in regards to political and economic, military, resources, security and legal issues.
During the summit, NATO allies focused on the need to help southeastern Europe become stable, prosperous and secure. The allies are committed rebuilding the region once peace is restored in Yugoslavia. "We want this region to be able to put the instabilities and the tragedies of the past behind, and to join the NATO mainstream," Solana said.
The strategic concept also highlights NATO's plan to develop a European Security and Defense Identity to enable European allies to play a larger role in Euro-Atlantic security. Solana said NATO has created arrangements that will allow European allies to conduct their own operations, drawing on NATO assets and capabilities.
"We need to carry this work further," he said, "but let me stress that the European Security and Defense Identity will be rooted into the alliance, and it will strengthen the trans- Atlantic relationship."
NATO authorities at the summit also released an initiative on weapons of mass destruction designed to address this growing peril to NATO populations, territory and military forces. The initiative calls for NATO allies to share information and intelligence so they can develop a comprehensive assessment of the current and evolving threat.
NATO military authorities will develop capabilities to operate in environments possibly containing weapons of mass destruction. The allies aim to help other nations counter proliferation through such programs as the U.S. Cooperative Threat Reduction program.
NATO will speed up coordinating possible responses in the event weapons of mass destruction are used against civilian populations. This includes maintaining a database on available medical stockpiles and expert personnel. The allies will consider ways national military forces might be made available to help in the event of such an emergency.
The allies agreed to establish a weapons of mass destruction center at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. The center will integrate and oversee all aspects of NATO's program to counter weapons of mass destruction.
NATO allies also announced a defense capabilities initiative designed to ensure NATO's armed forces are equipped for 21st century missions. This includes being able to provide humanitarian assistance, ensure force protection and conduct high-intensity combat.
"The initiative will help alliance military forces become more mobile, interoperable, sustainable, and better able to engage in the full spectrum of NATO's future operations with great effectiveness," Solana said.
The defense capabilities initiative is designed to ensure NATO can survive and operate under chemical, biological, terrorist or electronic attacks. They must be able to set up and maintain effective command and control and communications links. These assets must be interoperable with national systems and must be deployable.
For the past 50 years, Solana concluded, NATO has been dedicated to the creation of a secure, stable and undivided Europe. Now, he said, the allies must make the alliance "fit for the 21st century" so it can continue to guarantee "security and common values in the years and decades ahead."