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NATO Ministers Discuss Missile Defense, Receive Kosovo Update

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

BRUSSELS, Dec. 2, 1999 – Defense Secretary William S. Cohen briefed NATO's nuclear planning group about the threat of ballistic missiles Dec. 2 at the start of the NATO Defense Ministers Meeting here.

Officials said North Korea and Iran are working on long- range missiles that could threaten the United States and Europe. In addition, North Korea "has a propensity" to export technology, knowledge or the missiles themselves. The possibility exists, the officials said, for rogue states to acquire this capability and threaten the West.

The message of the briefing, the senior official said, was that the threat is real, the evidence is there.

In an earlier talk to German military leaders in Hamburg, Cohen said the U.S. government owes it to its people to protect them from the threat of a rogue regime launching a missile. He stressed the United States has not decided to field a national missile defense system; President Clinton will make that decision next year.

During a working lunch, Cohen addressed the proposed U.S. national missile defense program with members of the North Atlantic Council. He spoke of negotiations with Russia to update the Anti-ballistic Missile Treaty, which has a clause that allows amendments when the strategic situation changes. Cohen said the United States would simply like to invoke that clause.

He also told the ministers that Russian fears that a U.S. defense system would counter the Russian nuclear force were groundless. The system would be designed to counter a small number of missiles. Cohen pointed out the Russians still have about 6,000 nuclear weapons -- more than enough to overwhelm any U.S. defense system.

At the Defense Planning Committee meeting, NATO Secretary- General George Robertson told defense ministers that NATO countries must dedicate more resources to defense. While alliance mandates no set percentage of defense spending by members, the current average comes to about 2 percent of their gross domestic product. He said he understands member countries have competing needs and interests, but believes it is time for all members to begin planning to increase the resources devoted to defense.

He praised alliance members for trying innovative approaches to getting more for their money. He cited a Scandinavian initiative in which a number of countries banded together to buy helicopters. This will give the countries a better price and increase their interoperability. Other "pooling" arrangements are in the works. But "at the end of the day, if you want more capabilities, you have to have more resources," said a senior NATO official.

The ministers agreed to reduce the number of NATO troops in Bosnia from 30,000 to 20,000 and to review the troop level again in April. A senior U.S. administration official said it is too early to discuss similar troop reductions in Kosovo, but NATO will review the commitment when the security situation stabilizes.

The NATO commander in Kosovo, German Lt. Gen. Klaus Reinhardt, briefed the ministers on the state of affairs in the Serbian province. He said the 42,000 troops under his command have five missions. The first two missions are essentially complete -- making sure Yugoslav army and police members are out of Kosovo, and demilitarizing the Kosovo Liberation Army.

He said his third mission of ensuring the safety of Kosovo's populace is making great strides. He said it is far safer in the province than it was two years ago. "There are, of course, still violent acts," Reinhardt said. "But the number has dropped dramatically."

His fourth mission is to support the U.N. Mission in Kosovo. "We are working in very close cooperation with UNMIK," he said. "In fact, the military and United Nations staff are working on a joint strategy to harmonize the political and civil action."

One problem under U.N. control is there are only 1,700 police in the province when the need is for 4,800. Reinhardt said his Kosovo Force soldiers must take up the slack, and this takes them away from other missions.

His final mission is to help with humanitarian aid. He said his troops have largely restored electricity and water service. One key initiative is to "winterize" the population. "This doesn't mean all the homes are reconstructed and people are in them. There were 250,000 buildings destroyed -- 100,000 completely destroyed," he said. "What this means is we put families into houses with one warm room. This should get them through the winter."

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Related Sites:
DoD News Briefing: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen Press Conference at the George C. Marshall Center, Garmisch, Germany, Dec. 1, 1999
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen at the Bundeswehr Commanders' Conference, Hamburg Congress Center, Hamburg, Germany, Dec. 1, 1999

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