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NATO studying new 'military concept' to regain primacy

DAWN, Tuesday 04 June 2002; 22 Rabi-ul-Awwal 1423

BRUSSELS, June 3: NATO is drawing up a new military concept to define its role in the fight against global terrorism and put an end to the identity crisis which has plagued it since September 11, officials said on Monday.

Sidelined by the US military campaign in Afghanistan, NATO is working to make itself relevant for threats and security challenges that may lie far beyond the borders of Europe that it guarded during the Cold War.

Defence ministers from the 19-nation alliance will kickstart the process at a meeting in Brussels on Thursday and the package of measures will be agreed at a summit in Prague next November.

They will consider plans to streamline NATO's cumbersome military command structure and start work on a shopping list of military hardware to defend against weapons of mass destruction and get boots on the ground quickly when crises erupt.

The main function of this new military concept is to define NATO's role, and in particular the military role in relation to terrorism, a senior NATO official said. It will consider what role NATO could play in attacks on non-member countries outside its traditional area of operations and how it can contribute to international coalitions.

The flurry of activity comes in response to fears that, by making a habit of unilateral action, the United States - which is way ahead of Europe in military technology and defence spending - could marginalize the alliance. But instead of snubbing NATO, Washington is now leading efforts to revitalize it.

WASHINGTON SEEKS OVERHAUL: The senior official said that US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would propose a review of NATO's command structure, raising the question of whether it still needs a Supreme Allied Commander based in North America (SACLANT) as well as the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe (SACEUR). And Britain's Sunday Telegraph reported this week that the Pentagon would also propose that NATO set up small, highly mobile units for risky missions.

NATO officials said such a plan would be in keeping with the alliance's push for smart forces that can be deployed quickly and sustainably to far-flung troublespots.

The main concern for the defence ministers meeting this week will be the yawning gap in military capabilities between the United States and its allies.

The $48-billion increase planned for the US defence budget in 2003 is larger than the total annual defence budget of its next biggest allies, Britain and France.

NATO Secretary General George Robertson has warned that if the gap continues to widen there will be a division of labour, with the United States providing logistics, smart bombs and intelligence and its lower-tech allies providing soldiers - or simply wringing their hands on the sidelines.

European forces lack strategic airlift, precision-guided weapons and other key capabilities such as surveillance, air-to-air refuelling and tactical missile defence.

The senior official said that the defence ministers will start work on a revamp of the hapless Defence Capabilities Initiative, a programme of 58 tasks which was launched in 1999 to deal with shortfalls highlighted by the conflict in Kosovo.

We will focus on a much more limited area of capabilities such as defence against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons, deployability to theatre and sustainability in theatre and battlefield inter-operability, he said.

The new initiative, unlike its grander but less prescriptive predecessor, will set specific tasks for each NATO nation.-Reuters