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Terrorist scenario puts new-look NATO to the test
( 2003-10-09 09:53) (Agencies)

NATO defense ministers watched a fictitious rescue operation escalate into a weapons of mass destruction crisis on Wednesday, an exercise designed to focus on their alliance's new global security role.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, front, makes a point during a news conference as Lord Robertson, NATO secretary general, looks on during a two-day meeting of NATO defense ministers in Colorado Springs, Colo., Oct. 8, 2003. [AP]
The unprecedented "study seminar" at a top secret air force base on the edge of the Rocky Mountains challenged decision-making procedures that hobble NATO's capacity to act against post-Cold War security threats.

And it underlined how far the 19-nation alliance has to go as it builds a new force of 20,000 elite troops for lightning deployment anywhere in the world.

In the hypothetical scenario, a civilian rescue operation by NATO troops on an island country called Corona in the Red Sea escalates dramatically when terrorists threaten a direct attack against NATO with chemical and biological weapons.

"It was hypothetical but it was designed to deal with real world threats and capabilities," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told a news conference after the exercise at Schriever Air Force Base outside Colorado Springs.

The exercise, in which no final decisions were made, kicked off a two-day meeting of the 19 NATO defense ministers and the seven eastern European states that join their ranks next year.

French Minister of Defense Michele Alliot-Marie (L) and German Minister of Defense Peter Struck listen during an informal meeting of NATO Defense Ministers in Colorado Springs, October 8, 2003.  [Reuters]
The ministers will also consider an expansion of NATO's 5,500-strong peacekeeping force in Afghanistan and on Thursday they meet with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov.


Outgoing NATO Secretary-General George Robertson, who has harangued allies for years over gaps in their military capabilities, said the exercise illustrated Europe's woeful lack of readily deployable troops for crisis management operations.

He said non-U.S. allies had 1.4 million soldiers in uniform and only 55,000 involved in operations outside their own countries, and yet they complain of military overstretch.

"So long as you have so many unusable soldiers, the taxpayers are being ripped off," he said.

The scenario takes place in 2007, one year after a Response Force up to 20,000 troops -- deployable within five to 30 days -- is scheduled to be fully activated. The first 6,000 troops of the force will be unveiled in the Netherlands next week.

The defense ministers were presented with rapidly changing options as the scenario unfolded and prompted to consider the implications for the alliance, but diplomats were at pains to stress that they were not asked to make decisions.

British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon, right, looks across the room during a meeting of NATO defense ministers at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Wednesday Oct. 8, 2003. Seated left is Portugal's Defense Minister Paolo Portas.   [AP]
In past exercises NATO nations were put on the spot and sometimes forced to decide on using nuclear force.

In one held last year, in which a Middle Eastern country was ready to attack Turkey with biological and chemical weapons, only two out of the 19 -- Washington and Ankara -- agreed that they would have taken pre-emptive action.

Diplomats said Washington was anxious to tread carefully after a bitter split with France and Germany ahead of the U.S.-led Iraq war, which plunged NATO into one of the deepest crises in its 54-year history.

But the Rocky Mountains exercise did throw light on national decision-making procedures -- such as Germany's constitutional requirement to have parliamentary approval for military action abroad -- which could prevent NATO from responding to a crisis.

NATO was sidelined by Washington after the hijacked airliner attacks on the New York World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001. Rumsfeld said that if the alliance can be overhauled to meet such threats it can expect the "phone to ring."

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