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NATO's Defense Capabilities Initiative Targets the Future

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

TORONTO, Sept. 23, 1999 – The Defense Capabilities Initiative, the latest concept sweeping NATO, is key to meeting 21st century security challenges, alliance leaders meeting here Sept. 21 and 22 said.

Launched at the Washington Summit in April, the DCI identified the need to improve NATO forces' mobility, sustainability, effective engagement, survivability, and command, control and communications. Operation Allied Force confirmed the initiative is on target and served as a powerful impetus for advancing its recommendations, NATO officials here said.

"Kosovo showed that we had a number of strengths and a number of weaknesses," Defense Secretary William S. Cohen told reporters Sept. 22. All the members of NATO are determined to correct the deficiencies and to restructure their forces to achieve the initiative's goals, he said.

Members are examining what they need to do to contribute rapidly deployable, flexible forces, Cohen said. The DCI identifies 58 areas of concern. While many required upgrades will take years to accomplish, he noted, some can be done relatively quickly. Most NATO members, for example, already have aircraft that can deliver precision-guided munitions -- they just need to buy those munitions, he said.

The DCI focuses alliance members on attaining the interoperability and common capabilities needed to perform the roles and missions outlined in NATO's new strategic concept. NATO has expanded its charter beyond mutual defense to include humanitarian aid and peacekeeping operations outside members' territory.

NATO's immediate focus is on improving strategic lift, intelligence, and command, control and communications. The 19 allies are looking at ways to harness existing technologies and direct limited defense budgets toward procuring these enhanced capabilities. Many NATO ministers here noted the difficulty of making much headway if defense budgets continue to decline. For many of the allies, DCI enhancements may require increased defense spending.

It's up to each member to decide how it allocates its budget and whether more money is needed, Cohen said. If budget increases aren't an option, members might be able to fund improvements by cutting costs through reorganizations, switching to commercial off-the-shelf technology and a number of other methods, he said.

Kosovo proved the allies could successfully fight together, and now they aim to work more closely together in other areas. At present, for example, each nation provides its own fuel, rations and other supplies during multinational operations. NATO is considering ways to pool logistical support, intelligence and other resources.

NATO's jointly owned and operated Airborne Warning and Control System program is a rare example of coalition members sharing assets, a senior NATO official noted. The alliance now is discussing sharing ground surveillance assets as well.

Germany has suggested establishing a European mobility command that would conduct exercises among the European allies. Based on these exercises, NATO could then assess the need for transport aircraft and other strategic lift requirements. U.S. officials suggested the Europeans look at the possibility of using commercial planes and vessels as the British did during the Falklands War.

NATO authorities said they are also considering using NATO's common funds for advanced technology such as communications and surveillance equipment. NATO used this money during the Cold War to maintain bases, airfields and other facilities to counter a Soviet assault, but now the funds could be directed toward other mutual priorities.

The allies hope to present fixed DCI milestones at NATO's next formal meeting, scheduled in December, a senior NATO official said.

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