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11/9/02 - LOOKING AHEAD TO PRAGUE - 2002-11-12

On November 21st, NATO members will meet in Prague. The purpose: to transform the alliance to meet the threats of the twenty-first century.

During the Cold War, NATO faced threats from the Soviet Union and its satellite states. Today, most of Europe is at peace. And the main threats to that peace come from outside Europe -- from rogue states and terrorist organizations. The most serious would come from terrorists who got hold of weapons of mass destruction. Faced with this new reality, NATO will have no choice but to operate beyond its borders. But for NATO to be able to do that, the widening gap in military capabilities between the United States and its allies must be closed. Among other things, NATO members need to fund strategic airlift, secure communications, and protection against chemical and biological weapons.

In Prague, the U.S. will ask fellow NATO members to approve the creation of a rapid response force. This multinational force would consist of land, sea, and air components that will transform NATO into a modern fighting force capable of rapid deployment anywhere in the world to address new threats. Such a unit would give NATO the ability to strike quickly when an ally is attacked by a distant foe, as the U.S. was by al-Qaida. As U.S. Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns said, “NATO must create this capability if it is to be relevant in the new global terrorist environment.”

NATO will also invite new members to join. The U.S. favors a robust enlargement. Each of the new members will continue their reforms. As President George W. Bush said, “I believe in NATO membership for all of Europe’s democracies that seek it and that are ready to share the responsibilities that NATO brings.”

The Prague summit could be a turning point for NATO if it shifts its focus from Europe to new threats. As President Bush said, “If NATO succeeds in enacting these changes, the rewards will be a partnership as central to the security and interests of its member states as was the case during the Cold War. . . .We cannot afford to lose this opportunity to better prepare the family of transatlantic democracies for the challenges to come.”