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Summit Puts NATO Transformation in High Gear

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

PRAGUE, Czech Republic, Nov. 21, 2002 – While enlargement was the marquee event at the North Atlantic Alliance summit, it really served to highlight that this gathering was a "Transformation Summit," in the words of NATO Secretary-General George Robertson.

The alliance extended invitations to Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.

The invitations, Robertson said, were indications of the NATO theme of transformation. "We have enlarged the alliance, expanded its missions, enhanced its military capabilities and strengthened its partnerships," he said during a news conference at the mammoth press theater at Congress Hall here. "This is not business as usual."

Robertson said the expansion is accompanied by changes in the way NATO meets threats. The North Atlantic Council approved plans to create a NATO Response Force. The force will be fast, technologically superior and sustainable. It will stand ready to deploy "out-of-area" to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

As the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, brought home, he continued, attacks can come from many quarters, and NATO must have the capabilities to meet them. Plans call for the Response Force to have an initial operational capability as soon as possible but not later than October 2004. Full operational capability is set for October 2006.

Hand-in-hand with this force are changes to NATO's military command structure. Officials said there will be two strategic NATO commands: an operational one headquartered in Belgium and supported by two joint force commands, and one for transformation based in Norfolk, Va., but with a presence in Europe.

The Norfolk-based command will be responsible for continuing the transformation of NATO forces and promoting interoperability.

The alliance also needs to improve its military capabilities. "NATO's credibility depends fundamentally on its military capability," Robertson said. "We need to become more effective to keep our people safe in today's uncertain world."

He said all the leaders at the summit made a firm political commitment to deliver specific, essential military enhancements from heavy airlift and sealift to more precision-guided munitions to air tankers to protection from chemical and biological weapons.

"These are decisions, not just declarations," he said.

He said countries are entering into multinational initiatives to fund capabilities together. Germany, Spain and the Netherlands have put together a framework so all countries can contribute to buying airlifters and refuelers, for example. He said momentum to build these capabilities has been growing all year. "Quite a number of countries have now lined up to say they will increase their defense spending," Robertson said.

The United States, United Kingdom, France, Portugal, Norway, the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary are increasing their defense spending. "But what's much more important than the gross amount of money spent is how it is spent," he said. "More money spent on the wrong things doesn't give the alliance any reassurance.

"That's where I think the penny has finally dropped," he continued. The member nations have far too many tanks and "heavy-metal" pieces of equipment, with a corresponding number of troops dedicated to manning and maintaining them.

"Taking the tough political decisions to reshape budgets is now well under way," he said. "If you want your people to be safe, then you've got to spend money to ensure they are."

On Nov. 22, there will be a meeting of the NATO-Russia Security Council and a meeting at the foreign minister level between NATO and Ukraine.

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