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Talking Shop at NATO

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

BRUSSELS, June 16, 1997 – NATO expansion, Partnership for Peace, nuclear disarmament, Bosnia, command of NATO's Allied Forces South -- Defense Secretary William S. Cohen discussed these issues with his alliance counterparts.

Cohen and Walter Slocombe, undersecretary of defense for policy, met with NATO officials June 12 and 13 at the start of a nine-day, six-country trip to Europe and the Middle East.

Their NATO visit coincided with President Clinton's announcement of U.S. support for inviting Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic to join the security alliance. In a statement June 12, Clinton said aspiring members were judged by their ability to add strength to the alliance and their readiness to shoulder the obligations of NATO membership.

"Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic most clearly meet those criteria and have currently made the greatest strides in military capacity and political and economic reform," Clinton said. The first new members will not be the last, he added. "We will continue to work with other interested nations, such as Slovenia and Romania, to help them prepare for membership. Other nations are making good progress, and none will be excluded from consideration."

NATO is slated to announce which countries will be invited to become member candidates based upon the allies' consensus at a Madrid summit July 8 and 9. NATO Secretary General Javier Solana said the door to membership will remain open and "the first wave will not be the last." He also said the American policy decision to include only the three new members will bear heavy weight among the 16 allies.

NATO should encourage nations seeking membership to accelerate and enhance Partnership for Peace activities and intensify dialogue with NATO to ensure they are on the right path, Cohen said. Including NATO's 16 members, a total of 43 nations are now in the Partnership for Peace, and NATO is discussing ways to improve partnership activities.

While NATO expansion was their main topic, the allies also discussed DoD's quadrennial review, nuclear disarmament, Bosnia and relations with France, particularly command of Allied Forces South.

During the Defense Planning Committee meeting, Cohen briefed members on the recently completed Quadrennial Defense Review. He pointed out the review's emphasis on force modernization, which will ultimately enhance NATO's capabilities. He also told the allies the United States is committed to playing an active role in international affairs and stressed the strong U.S. commitment to NATO and to maintaining 100,000 U.S. troops in Europe.

During a the Nuclear Planning Group meeting, Cohen reviewed U.S. commitments to nuclear disarmament and arms control, including the U.S. desire for Russian ratification of START II and negotiations for a START III treaty. He said Russia's new defense minister supports ratification.

After a briefing on Russian strategic forces, Cohen told committee members U.S. defense officials believe Russian command and control of strategic nuclear forces is now adequate, but bears watching.

NATO officials also expressed continuing concern about the size of the Russian tactical nuclear force, Slocombe said.

"Unlike the strategic force, the tactical nuclear force is not subject to any formal arms control agreements," he said. "There have been informal understandings about reducing that, and the level of deployment has been substantially reduced, but there is a concern about the state of Russian tactical nuclear forces both in terms of level and ... some of the control arrangements."

Regarding Bosnia, NATO officials stressed the need for continued pressure on civilian agencies to complete civil reconstruction while stabilization forces remain.

"There is a very broad consensus within the alliance that rather than argue now about what should happen in June 1998, it is important to operate within the framework of the decision NATO made late last year, which is that [the stabilization force] has an 18-month duration," Slocombe told reporters.

"There is a very strong sentiment that we have 13 months to press the civilian side in the full range of activities required in order to help the people of Bosnia chart their own future," he said. "Where SFOR has a clear mandate [is] not disputed; it comes to an end June of 1998."

U.S. and NATO officials reaffirmed their stance that under the Dayton accord, the former warring parties must deal with war criminals.

"We are, through a variety of means, trying to secure their cooperation in turning over indicted war criminals," Slocombe said. SFOR is also helping the war crimes tribunal in The Hague investigate and pursue the issue, he said.

NATO's internal adaptation, including command structure changes, is nearly complete, according to U.S. Ambassador to NATO Robert Hunter. The question of which nation will command Allied Forces South, a matter of contention between the United States and France, remains unresolved.

The U.S. position remains firm: Allied Forces South, which includes the U.S. Sixth Fleet, will remain under U.S. command. After meeting with officials from the newly elected French government, Cohen said the matter is still being discussed and he hopes a decision will be made before the Madrid summit.

U.S. officials hope France will become fully integrated into the NATO structure and are prepared to continue discussing the issue, Cohen said. Previous discussions were put on hold during the French elections and have not been resumed.

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