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U.S., Northern Europeans Talk Mutual Security

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

OSLO, Norway, July 12, 1999 – The Cold War is over and fighting has stopped in the Balkans, but it's no time for NATO to relax, according to the U.S., Nordic and Baltic defense leaders meeting here.

The United States and its Northern European allies say the alliance and its partners must remain prepared for any future contingency. Though downsized in the past decade, U.S. and many European militaries must maintain and modernize their capabilities, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said here July 10.

He said further reductions in force size and defense spending will lead to an undesirable, widening gap in capabilities between the United States and other NATO members. Responsible defense spending is needed to ensure allied forces are ready for the future, he said.

Cohen met counterparts from Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The eight defense leaders focused on the continuing need for strong, adaptable militaries; Kosovo; NATO enlargement; and relations with Russia.

Swedish Defense Minister Bjorn von Sydow said Northern European security is not threatened today, but areas exist in Europe "which can implode" just as the former Yugoslavia did. "For that reason," he said, "it is an overall interest for all of us, that we can use our resources in a way of promoting collective security on this continent."

Cohen outlined lessons learned from NATO's air campaign in Kosovo and the resulting implications for NATO members, partners and membership candidates. The Europeans, he said, need to upgrade defense capabilities as outlined in NATO's recently approved Defense Capabilities Initiative so they can share more of the military load during future operations.

The initiative "will have a far-reaching impact on the defense planning in alliance and partner countries alike," said Norwegian Defense Minister Eldbjorg Lower, who hosted the regional defense ministerial.

The three Baltic ministers reported their progress modernizing their armed forces as they work toward becoming NATO members. A year ago, U.S. officials assessed what each nation needed to do to develop its defense structures to meet membership requirements.

"We hope to be ready for the next round of enlargement," said Estonian Defense Minister Juri Luik. "We have received a lot of good advice from our friends in the alliance, especially, I would note, the study of our defense forces by the U.S. Defense Department."

Estonia is implementing U.S. proposals in terms of planning, budgeting, and command and communications, Luik said. "This is not only because of NATO, but because this is how the modern army works. This is useful for us, and in that spirit, we are preparing ourselves for the alliance."

Latvian Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis said his nation intends to be ready for the next round and is working to fulfill NATO interoperability and compatibility requirements. "We want to become trustful and reliable partners," he said. "I think our government will do everything we can during the next two or three years to fulfill that mission."

Lithuania is currently increasing defense financing and developing structures for personnel training and for participation in peace operations and Partnership for Peace programs, said Defense Minister Ceslovas Stankevicius.

Relations with Russia was another topic on the defense leaders' agenda. Lithuania's and Estonia's defense ministers noted there have been no indications that their intent to join NATO will harm or hamper relations with Russia. They said their nations are working to improve economic and political ties with Russia.

Cohen said he plans an August visit to Russia to discuss such mutual concerns and issues as national missile defenses, a commitment to share early warning information, re-establishing the Permanent Joint Council and other issues. "I think all of us here believe that Russia's future really lies with the West in democratic reforms and committing itself to democracy because that is the best opportunity for Russia to enjoy economic prosperity," the secretary concluded.

Cohen's visit to Oslo was the second stop on a seven-day trip to Europe. From Oslo, he advances to Hungary, Albania, Turkey and Greece and is slated to return to Washington July 15.

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