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Background Briefing at NATO Headquarters, Brussels, Belgium

Presenter: Senior Defense Official
June 06, 2002

(Background Briefing at NATO Headquarters, Brussels, Belgium)

Staff: The session is on background as a senior defense official and I really do apologize that we're late and the fact that we need to leave at 1:25.

Senior Defense Official: Yes. We were late because the ministers were having a very long and detailed discussion about the problem of weapons of mass destruction, the nexus between that and terrorism and the need for the Alliance to develop new capabilities to deal with those problems and the threats we will face in the 21st century.

There was widespread agreement among Allies that we need to develop a new approach involving major capabilities in four key areas that could then be endorsed by heads of state at the Prague Summit. These areas are: weapons of mass destruction protection; the ability to develop secure, interoperable communications capabilities...

Q: Would that be number two?

Senior Defense Official: Yes. Number three is to enhance the Alliance's mobility capabilities and its ability to sustain its forces out of area.

Q: Is that lift?

Senior Defense Official: Lift, logistics support, air-to-air refueling. Anything that helps you move from one place to another. And then finally to develop a package of advanced conventional capabilities, including precision strike capabilities and things like that. The idea was that this was a tasking to military authorities to develop a package with specific, concrete goals, and timelines for achieving those goals, that could be endorsed by heads of state in Prague.

A second thing that has come out of this is widespread agreement that the Alliance needs to do a zero-based review of its command structure, to modernize the Alliance to deal with new threats, and to focus that command structure and command elements on new threats -- emphasizing high readiness capabilities, emphasizing the need to have deployable forces and command structures. Basically, Ministers agreed that this review would begin as part of - actually there has been an ongoing review going on, but this command structure review would be a zero-based review and it would move forward through Prague then be endorsed, hopefully, by heads of state, with the idea of it being implemented sometime next year.

Q: Would the review be done in time for the Prague Summit?

Senior Defense Official: No. The concept would be that by the Prague Summit there would be enough of a focus in the review for heads of state to provide guidelines and guidance for the review. The review would then be completed sometime in the summer of 2003 and implemented thereafter.

Obviously, this kind of a review will involve looking at headquarters elements in all the countries, the disposition of the strategic commands in NATO, the disposition of high readiness force headquarters... all kinds of elements. So it's a pretty detailed and comprehensive review. It's going to take some time. But it will be very important for heads of state to endorse this idea and to provide guidance to NATO in Prague. So it's kind of a two-step process.

Q: What do you mean by "zero-based?" From the bottom up?

Senior Defense Official: Yes. Bottom up review. That's -

There was also, as I said, a great deal of discussion about the weapons of mass destruction threat and the nexus between that and terrorism. There was broad agreement that the WMD threat is a threat to the Alliance and especially to civilian populations. There was a focus on that in some of the communiqué language. And then there was, perhaps most importantly, the Secretary communicated - and there was great resonance with the idea - that there is a sense of urgency to this WMD problem. NATO will be a very important part of responding to that - for the members of the Alliance, along with other international partners, including the European Union. And so ministers, as I said, had a long and fairly detailed discussion on weapons of mass destruction, countries that possess them, the state sponsors of terrorism, and the like. It was a very interesting give and take.

Q: Did they discuss specific countries like Iraq in this context?

Senior Defense Official: There was a discussion of a broad range of countries including Iran and Iraq, North Korea and others in that context.

Q: On the four capabilities gaps you outlined at the start, even though the proposals won't be ready until the Prague summit, can you describe any discussion or ideas that were discussed and the way ahead on this war?

Senior Defense Official: Well, in the WMD protection area there are some specific ideas that were endorsed. I don't know if I have those in front of me.

(TO STAFF) Do you have a copy of those?

Staff: No, I don't think so.

Senior Defense Official: Basically, in this case, it's a sort of better defenses against the broad range of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons -- deployable response capabilities - and things like that. The Alliance in the past has frankly focused more on the chemical problem, and less on radiological, nuclear and biological problems. There is a more of an emphasis now, in this initiative, on the biological side.

Q: This is responding to attack, not prevention?

Senior Defense Official: The initiatives deal with detection, prevention and response. So it's a broad range of things.

Q: You said there was a sense of urgency about WMD. Was there a sense of urgency about going after Iraq and its WMD program among the members?

Senior Defense Official: There wasn't any specific discussion about how to deal with specific countries. It was more of a broad - well, there was obviously a discussion about intelligence and what we know about these things - but they weren't developing strategies here for dealing with specific countries.

Q: Was there a discussion of the President's views, as set forth in his speech at West Point, on the possible need for a preventive action against countries that both have weapons of mass destruction and are involved in terrorism?

Senior Defense Official: There wasn't a specific discussion about the President's speech, although many Ministers noted that this was an urgent problem and one that the Alliance needed to deal with very quickly.

Q: What about the notion of pre-emptive action?

Senior Defense Official: There was not a discussion of that.

Senior Defense Official: I would just add to that, as someone who sits in the back row on these things a lot, also on background. I think almost - I should say a majority of the Ministers spoke to the urgency of the situation with regards to weapons of mass destruction and the nexus with terrorism and the need to take specific and concrete steps.

Q: Like what? I mean if we're not talking about prevention, what kind of things could we do?

Senior Defense Official: We're talking about some of the things that they're going to do, whether it's capabilities, etc. But the repetition of the words was pretty remarkable.

Q: Was Cuba mentioned among the countries?

Senior Defense Official: Cuba was discussed. Rather, it was not discussed but Cuba was mentioned.

Q: It was mentioned as a WMD threat?

Senior Defense Official: Yes.

Q: Was it mentioned by Secretary Rumsfeld?

Senior Defense Official: I really wouldn't want to go into a sort-of 'Who said what in the meeting?' I try to avoid that.

Q: Would it be fair to say an American mentioned it?

Senior Defense Official: Well, that's not necessarily a meaningful distinction, especially since he's pretty much the one who pretty much does the talking.

Q: How about Syria and Libya?

Senior Defense Official: Both Syria and Libya were also discussed.

Q: Does the Alliance anticipate that individual countries will have individual roles on the response front? One nation will have biological response, another will have radiological response?

Senior Defense Official: The discussion did not get quite to that fine a grain, but there was a consensus that emerged, I think, about the need to develop special capabilities among the various allies. The Norwegians actually made a proposal in that regard that I think was a very positive thing. The concept was that certain countries have got expertise in certain areas, whether it be mine clearing, chemical/biological detection or clean up capabilities, special operations forces, cold weather or mountain warfare . . . You know, in other words, there will be certain areas where certain allies will be able to provide a significant value-added to the Alliance by further developing those capabilities. I think that's another important thing that came out of this.

Q: Does the U.S. endorse that approach to specialization for individual countries?

Senior Defense Official: Yes. We think it's a good, fit approach.

Staff: Stand and answer as you go.

Senior Defense Official: Okay. I'm walking out. Last question.

Q: A question on SACLANT

Senior Defense Official: The issue of SACLANT was discussed in the context of the command structure review and there was a lively discussion about it. There wasn't any decision made.

Staff: Thank you.