Prague Summit Poised to Remake NATO, Make History
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
PRAGUE, Czech Republic, Nov. 20, 2002 -- The NATO Summit here is historic because it will allow the, Nov. 20, 2002 The NATO Summit here is historic because it will allow the North Atlantic Alliance to remake itself to face the threats of the 21st century, U.S. officials said.
A senior defense official, speaking on background, said the "headline story" of the summit is inviting new countries to join the alliance. But equally important, he said, are moves to stand-up a NATO Rapid Reaction Force, shrink the technological gap between the United States and the European allies, and to remake NATO's command structure.
The alliance will invite countries to join Nov. 21 following a heads of state meeting. The aspirants are Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Albania, Croatia, and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Many analysts agree a large number will be invited.
"Former members of the Soviet Union itself may be moving into NATO," the official said. "We believe these new members will strengthen the alliance in a number of ways."
He said the countries don't have "360-degree" militaries -- meaning they cannot perform all missions equally well. But that fits, he said.
"In this day and age, the alliance is not looking on adding large numbers of brigades and divisions and the like," he said. "What (these aspirants) do bring is 'niche' capabilities that will potentially be very valuable in the full spectrum of operations."
The niche capabilities include peacekeeping; explosive ordnance disposal; special operations forces; nuclear, biological and chemical defense; and demining.
"This is not the end of enlargement for the alliance," he said. "The door will remain open."
Transforming the alliance's capabilities is a large part of the discussion at the summit. Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defenses are examples of the capabilities NATO would like to develop, officials said. Another is developing better secure command and control capabilities.
Others are old news: NATO still needs more airlift and sealift, and more precision-guided munitions and state-of- the-art air defenses.
Command structure reform is apart of transforming NATO. "What's important is getting our command structures set up so we can deploy … and sustain 'out of area' and to try to (rethink NATO's) strategic commands," the official said.
Under the proposal, one command would focus on operations and a second, on transformation. The operational command would be out of Europe and may get a new name. The transformation command would be based in Norfolk, Va.
"That command will be heavily involved in the (alliance) planning process, in education, training and education," the official said. "Its purpose is, as all NATO nations' militaries transform themselves, that we try to synchronize that effect and maintain as much commonality and interoperability in the way we do that."
The proposal calls for the U.S.-based command to be associated with the U.S. Joint Forces Command. If the proposal is accepted, the commander of USJFCOM would also head the new NATO command.
The heads of state will approve the basic idea of the structure here. The military structure will develop over the next few months and be finalized at the June defense ministerial in 2003.
The official expects the heads of state to approve the NATO Rapid Response Force during their meetings. The force is designed to be light, lethal and highly mobile. The official said the force reflects the alliance's understanding that the dangers members face in the 21st century are not confined to Europe. The force is designed for out-of-area operations and will have land, air and sea components. It will carry its own supplies to be able to operate for up to 90 days.
The official expects nations would still maintain control. "Any use of any NATO capability will be subject to the consensus of NATO," the official said. "All of the countries of NATO have signed up for this Rapid Response Force and all of the countries agreed to the wording … that they needed the ability to respond to threats wherever they came from."
"There's a relationship between these things," the official said. "We need agile command structures to be able to deploy. We need new capabilities to be able to deploy."