Feith Testifies on NATO Enlargement, Capabilities Gap
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 28, 2002 Planned NATO enlargement should not be an exercise in how little the alliance can get away with, but "how much we can do to advance the cause of freedom," said Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy.
Feith testified on NATO issues before the Senate Armed Services Committee Feb. 28. He discussed NATO enlargement and the growing disparity between the U.S. and European military capabilities.
Nine European countries have applied for NATO membership: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Slovakia, Romania, Macedonia and Albania. All are participating in the Membership Action Plan set up during the 1999 Washington Summit and all are members of the alliance's Partnership for Peace. The 19 NATO members will formally invite those chosen for membership during the summit in Prague, the Czech Republic, in November.
Feith remarked that the United States hopes to accelerate NATO's transformation at the summit. The American delegation will stress "new capabilities, new members and new relationships," he added.
Feith said the aspirant countries have made impressive contributions to NATO-led operations in the Balkans.
"In 2001, seven of the nine NATO aspirants made force contributions to NATO operations in Kosovo, and eight of the nine to NATO operations in Bosnia," Feith said. "They have also shown much appreciated solidarity with the United States through their contributions to Operation Enduring Freedom.
"They have conducted themselves as we want our allies to act. For operations in Afghanistan, the aspirants have provided troops, intelligence, over-flight rights, access to bases, and public diplomatic support," he added.
Feith said the Defense Department realizes the path to enlargement is not free of potential pitfalls, noting, "People of experience and wisdom warn of the dangers of making the alliance excessively unwieldy."
Some people, he noted, fear enlargement would dilute NATO's military capabilities and hurt the alliance's relations with Russia.
"They want to ensure that any enlargement will strengthen NATO's ability to perform its essential defense mission," Feith said.
The United States, he explained, is aware of these concerns and will be cautious in recommending countries for membership.
Feith said while the administration debates specific candidacies, DoD will assess the state of the aspirants' military structures, their defense reform implementation, the readiness of military units dedicated to NATO missions and the military value these countries can add to NATO," Feith said.
The United States also will address other issues at the Prague meeting and other NATO gatherings, Feith noted. The paramount concern, he pointed out, is the growing disparity between U.S. and European military capabilities. Feith said the United States has "heard encouraging rhetoric" about closing the gap, "but by and large have seen meager results."
He said the widening gap weakens the alliance's military potential and could erode NATO's political solidarity.
Feith said the alliance needs to focus on defending its forces and populations against weapons of mass destruction; doing a better job of getting its forces to the fight; ensuring NATO forces can communicate easily with one another without fear of eavesdropping or jamming by their adversaries; and improving NATO countries' contributions to modern, fast-paced and more-precise combat operations.
"We can't transform NATO's capabilities overnight, but we can't afford to settle for business as usual," Feith said. "As we encourage allies to spend more on defense, it is even more important that we get them to spend smarter."