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Defense Leaders to Revamp WMD Defense, Review Command Structure

Defense Leaders to Revamp WMD Defense, Review Command Structure

By Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA, American Forces Press Service.

Brussels, Belgium -- (AFPS) June 6, 2002 -- Defense against weapons of mass destruction and a review of the NATO command structure topped the docket here today during meetings of defense leaders from NATO countries.

There is little or no warning of an attack in today's world, and a WMD attack would bring catastrophic consequences, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in prepared remarks.

"If we do not prepare promptly to counter (the WMD threat), we could well experience attacks in our countries that could make the attacks of Sept. 11 seem modest by comparison," he said in an afternoon press conference.

Rumsfeld told the ministers that pre-emptive strikes should be considered self-defense. He said during the press conference that nations' militaries historically have prepared to "contest aggressive, hostile armies, navies and air forces." But terrorists don't fight a country's militaries -- they target civilian populations using any means at hand, he said.

Since terrorists can strike at any place, any time, against any target and can be impossible to defend against, Rumsfeld said, perhaps it's time to "calibrate the definition of defensive."

He said the only defense is to take the effort to find global terrorist networks and to deal with them. "Is that defensive or is it offensive?" he said. "I personally think of it as defensive."

A senior official who had been in the NATO meetings said Rumsfeld's comments were well-received by the other ministers.

In an afternoon press conference, Secretary-General George Robertson said NATO's range of options has to be much bigger than it has been because the range of threats is much greater now.

"We need to assess what the threats are for the safety and security of the people who live in the countries that are members of the alliance and act appropriately in the circumstances," he said.

Rumsfeld told the other ministers that the United States since Sept. 11 has been asking itself tough questions about whether the attacks could have been prevented. He told the NATO members they have the opportunity to ask the same questions now, before an attack occurs in Europe.

The ministers agreed to develop concrete proposals on new capabilities to fight emerging threats. These proposals represent a "new, more focused approach to capabilities based on firm commitments and on target dates," Robertson said.

The proposals are scheduled to be completed by a November summit of NATO countries in Prague, Czech Republic.

"The idea was that this was a tasking to military authorities to develop a package with specific, concrete goals and timelines for achieving those goals that can be endorsed by heads of state in Prague," said another senior U.S. official present for the talks.

The official said there was "widespread agreement among allies that we need to develop a new approach involving major capabilities in four key areas":

o Protection from weapons of mass destruction.

o The ability to develop secure, interoperable communications capabilities.

o Enhancement of the alliance's mobility capability and its ability to sustain its forces in remote areas. The official said mobility includes lift, logistics support, and air-to- air refueling -- "anything that helps you move from one place to another," he said.

o Development of advanced conventional capabilities, including precision-strike capabilities.

Improvements in WMD protection will specifically target a broader range of nuclear, biological and chemical protection than the alliance currently possesses. "The alliance in the past has frankly focused more on the chemical problem and less on radiological, nuclear and biological capabilities," the U.S. official said. He noted protection from biological weapons is more the focus now.

The ministers mentioned several countries of concern in regards to the WMD threat, including Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Syria, Libya and Cuba, the official said.

One way for the alliance to expand its capabilities is through specialization among nations, the Norwegian delegation proposed to widespread agreement.

The official said certain countries have expertise in areas such as mine clearing, chemical-biological protection or clean-up capabilities, special operations forces, cold- weather or mountain warfare. If developed further, the capabilities of certain allies would be of significant help to the alliance, he added.

The ministers agreed to a "zero-based review" of the NATO command structure to modernize the alliance to deal with new threats. Emphasis went to high readiness capabilities and the need to have deployable forces and command structure. The review would include an examination of headquarters elements and the distribution of strategic commands within NATO.

The official explained the ministers agreed that planning for the review would be far enough along by November to present the idea to the heads of state for endorsement and further guidance.

Robertson said today's decisions "clearly show that NATO means business," and they help pave the way for a modern, updated NATO.

"At the end of the day, our decisions ... are all about one thing," he said. "That is, maintaining NATO's preponderance as the only military and political organization capable of defending and promoting the collective values of democracy, freedom, liberty and the rule of law."

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).