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NATO Headquarters
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, Brussels, Belgium, Thursday, June 12, 2003

Good afternoon.  We have had some very good meetings today.  I thanked our Allies for their strong support in the Global War on Terrorism, and especially in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

We enthusiastically welcomed the seven invitees who joined in the meetings of the Defense Planning Committee and the North Atlantic Council.  Since the end of the Cold War, we have now invited a total of ten new Allies, many of them of course were former Warsaw Pact adversaries.  I think it says a good deal about how much Europe has changed in the past decade.  Certainly, it has changed a great deal since I was here as U.S. Ambassador to NATO three decades ago.  Who could have imagined back then that Poland would not only be a NATO Ally, but would be receiving force generation support from NATO to lead an element in Iraq?

The presence of these new seven members, I think, will change NATO for the better.  I mentioned to the incoming Defense Ministers that they have certainly have not been invited -- their countries have not been invited to NATO as junior partners.  They have been invited to full membership and to exercise leadership.

Since the Prague Summit, NATO has made some truly historic decisions, if you think about it.  NATO decided to undertake operations under Article Four to defend Turkey against the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons.  NATO decided to support German and Dutch forces leading ISAF in Afghanistan - ISAF III -- and to consider taking a NATO lead for ISAF IV.  And last month NATO decided to support Poland as it leads one of the three division headquarters in Iraq for stability operations.  These decisions, I think, very clearly underscore NATO’s recognition that in the 21st century security environment we have to be able to conduct multiple operations at a wide variety of locations across the globe.

In the Defense Planning Committee today, Admiral Ed Giambastiani gave a briefing on some initial results from the lessons-learned activity from Operation Iraqi Freedom.  We had probably the most comprehensive effort to achieve lessons learned.  It involved something in excess of a hundred people who began immediately with the beginning of the conflict.  These lessons underscore the importance of the two initiatives, which NATO approved at this meeting.  One is the new Command Structure.  Really, it’s a historic change.  And the second being the NATO Response Force.  These are each enormously important activities.  And not easy to achieve, I would say.

If one thinks back to the prior meeting, and then the one before that, there was a great deal of skepticism expressed by a lot of people as to what would happen to the NATO Response Force.  Would it, in fact, get the support of countries?  And what would happen to the effort to transform our command structure in a way that would fit the 21st century?  And yet the Command Structure restructuring has now been agreed to.  It is significant.  And the progress in the NATO Response Force, I think, is impressive.  It suggests something about NATO’s health, I would submit.

Finally, I discussed the U.S. concern about the lawsuit that’s recently been filed in a Belgian court against General Tom Franks and against Colonel Brian McCoy alleging that they were responsible for war crimes in Iraq, as well as suits that have been filed here in Belgium against former President Bush – George Herbert Walker Bush as opposed to George W. Bush – General Norman Schwarzkopf, Vice President Cheney and Secretary Powell.

The suits are absurd.  Indeed, I would submit that there is no general in history who has gone to greater lengths than General Franks and his superb team to avoid civilian casualties.  I am told that the suit against General Franks was effectively invited by a Belgian law that claims to gives Belgian courts powers to try the citizens of any nation for war crimes.  The United States rejects the presumed authority of Belgian courts to try General Franks, Colonel McCoy, Vice President Cheney, Secretary Powell and General Schwarzkopf, as well as former President Bush.

I will leave it to the lawyers to debate the legalities.  I am not a lawyer.  But the point is this.  By passing this law, Belgium has turned its legal system into a platform for divisive, politicized lawsuits against her NATO Allies.  Now, it’s obviously not for outsiders, non-Belgians, to tell the Belgian government what laws it should pass.  And what it should not pass.  With respect to Belgium’s sovereignty, we respect it.  Even though Belgium appears not to respect the sovereignty of other countries.

But Belgium needs to realize that there are consequences to its actions.  This law calls into serious question whether NATO can continue to hold meetings in Belgium and whether senior U.S. officials, military and civilian, will be able to continue to visit international organizations in Belgium.  I would submit that that could be the case for other NATO Allies, as well.

If the civilian and military leaders of member states can not come to Belgium without fear of harassment by Belgian courts entertaining spurious charges by politicized prosecutors, then it calls into question Belgium’s attitude about its responsibilities as a host nation for NATO and Allied forces.  For our part, we will have to consider whether we can allow senior uniformed and civilian officials to come to Baghdad...to Belgium, I mean.  Because of the charges flowing out of the activities in Baghdad, which of course would involve other coalition nations as well.  Certainly until this matter is resolved we will have to oppose any further spending for construction for a new NATO headquarters here in Brussels until we know with certainty that Belgium intends to be a hospitable place for NATO to conduct its business, as it has been over so many years.

For a complete transcript, including questions and answers, please visit:

http://www.defenselink.mil/transcripts/2003/tr20030612-secdef0271.html