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NATO Must Address Asymmetric Threats

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

BRUSSELS, Belgium, Dec. 18, 2001 – Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld urged NATO defense ministers to build up capabilities needed to combat "asymmetric threats," like the terror attacks on Sept. 11.

Rumsfeld addressed the ministers at a meeting of the North Atlantic Council Dec. 18. He told the allies they have to be prepared for surprises.

Six months ago no one would have dreamed of the terror attacks that killed thousands in New York and Washington, Rumsfeld said. No one imagined that Article V of the NATO charter, which says an attack on one alliance country is an attack on all, would be evoked, he said. "Yet here we are," he said. "And in my confirmation hearings only eight months earlier (than the attacks), the word that was not mentioned once was, of course, 'Afghanistan.'"

NATO Secretary General George Robertson also urged the ministers to adapt the alliance to meet the new threats. "We must adapt our concepts, our relationships and especially our defense capabilities," Lord Robertson said in his opening statements to the ministers. He told that the attacks of September 11 "brought a terrible clarity to what is required to ensure the safety of our population."

Rumsfeld gave the ministers a thumbnail sketch of war on terrorists. He said the Taliban and the Al Qaeda terror network have been driven from most of the strongholds in Afghanistan. Still, much remains to be done in the country. Many Taliban fighters kept their weapons and blended back in with the population, Rumsfeld said.

Others, he called them the "dead-enders," have retreated into the mountains. Finding these fighters and bringing them to justice will be difficult and hazardous and will take time, he said.

He said the coalition against terror groups would remain flexible and change as the circumstances change. In an earlier interview, Rumsfeld told reporters traveling with him that the "mission will define the coalition. The coalition will not define the mission." He said a single coalition would not be suitable for the extended war on terrorists. Having a single coalition would tend to "dumb down" the mission, he said.

Flexible coalitions are also realistic. "We've got to recognize that people are different, countries are different," he said. "They have different histories, different perspectives, and they are interested in and capable of certain things but not others. We understand that and we recognize the political differences. We value whatever help they can provide."

Rumsfeld said NATO faces two challenges: to prosecute the war on terrorism and to prepare for the next war.

He cited the need to develop capabilities to combat terrorism, cyberattacks, attacks on satellites, cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, and nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction.

Rumsfeld bluntly warned the ministers that another attack might include weapons of mass destruction. Given the September 11 attacks, "can any of us doubt for one moment that if terrorists or the regimes that support them possessed real missiles, armed with weapons of mass destruction, they would hesitate to use them?

"We need to face the reality that the attacks of September 11th - horrific as they were - may in fact be a dim preview of what is to come if we do not prepare today to defend our people from adversaries with weapons of increasing power and range," he said.

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Related Sites:
Background Briefing at NATO Headquarters, Dec. 18, 2001
Secretary Rumsfeld News Briefing in Brussels, Dec. 18, 2001
Secretary Rumsfeld Joint Press Availability with Russian Defense Minister in Brussels, Dec. 17, 2001
Secretary Rumsfeld Media Availability en route to Brussels, Dec. 17, 2001
Statement as Delivered by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld at the NATO Nuclear Planning Group (NPG), Brussels, Belgium , Dec. 18, 2001
Statement as Delivered by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld at the NATO North Atlantic Council (NAC-D), Brussels, Belgium, Dec. 18, 2001

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