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Cohen: NATO Needs More Mobility, Better Commo

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON Nov. 19, Nov. 19, 1998 – NATO nations must modernize and restructure their militaries to meet future challenges, according to Defense Secretary William S. Cohen.

NATO must develop four core capabilities -- mobility, effective engagement, survivability and sustainability, the secretary said at a conference in Norfolk, Va., in mid- November. This means improving command, control and communications, logistics and interoperability, he said.

More than 60 NATO representatives met Nov. 12 and 13 to discuss the need for a common operational vision. The conference was a forerunner to the 50th anniversary summit being held here in April. In the five months leading to the summit, Cohen called on NATO allies to develop these four capabilities.

The alliance must be mobile enough to project both force and assistance rapidly, Cohen said. NATO must be able to deliver the right assets when and where they are needed, and it must improve its ability to protect forces from terrorism and from chemical, biological and electronic attacks, he added.

To do all this, NATO needs better ways to collect, process and disseminate information, needs to improve its logistics capabilities and interoperability, and members must share technological innovations, Cohen said.

A military force is only as effective as its flow of information, he said, so communications and logistics should be the immediate focus. "NATO must develop a communications capability for the 21st century if we are to remain effective," Cohen said.

As operations in Bosnia have shown, he noted, Cold War- style logistics are not deployable. Since today's operations call for rapid deployments instead of forward- based forces, commanders must be able to locate and move assets quickly. Cohen advised NATO logisticians to consider setting up a multinational logistics center.

Along with changing its physical capabilities, Cohen said, NATO must change the way it thinks about operational challenges. NATO authorities are currently revising the Strategic Concept, a framework document that sets out what the alliance is, where it's going, and in a general way, how it's going to get there.

"We must prioritize, coordinate and integrate our work to ensure that what the Strategic Concept says results in actions that improve our national and alliance defense capabilities," the secretary said.

The overarching goal, he said, is to create NATO forces designed, equipped and prepared for 21st century missions. NATO needs forces that can be combined into a single, powerful, interoperable unit that can accomplish any mission the alliance directs, he said.

This undertaking should not be seen as "a paper exercise" or "flash of rhetoric" for the 50th anniversary that is then left to gather dust, the secretary stressed. NATO troops' lives and the success of the alliance depends upon the work done in the coming months.

"Communiques and good intentions do little for the soldier in the field," Cohen said. "The German sergeant directing the supply of rations to ten thousand refugees will care little if our discussions were diplomatically correct, but he will care greatly that he can communicate with the Turkish transport bringing those supplies.

"And the Greek platoon leader targeting air support will care little that we issued a statement of high-minded propositions, but he will care profoundly that his computer is compatible with that of the French pilot above him."

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