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US Senate Hears NATO Reform Proposals - 2002-05-01

Members of the U.S. Senate have been briefed on proposals to reform and expand the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and improve the alliance's relationship with Moscow.

Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee underscored the need for NATO to restructure itself to deal with global terrorism if it is going to remain relevant in the 21st century.

"The war on terrorism does require a re-examination of the rationale for NATO and how it should adapt to meet new challenges," said committee chairman, Democrat Joe Biden of Delaware.

"The ongoing pace of military operations in Afghanistan and the escalating violence in the Middle East serve to underscore the simple fact that the greatest security challenges of our day no longer lie within Europe but outside of it," said Sen. Richard Lugar of Illinois, the committee's ranking Republican. "As a result, the trans-Atlantic relationship faces a paradox. We have the most successful Alliance ever created but it is or seems to be marginal or even irrelevant when it comes to dealing with the most urgent issues of the day."

Ahead of its November summit in Prague, alliance members are working on a plan to deal with terrorist threats.

Part of that plan involves closing the gap between the military capabilities of the United States and Europe.

U.S. Undersecretary of State for political affairs, Marc Grossman, told the Foreign Relations Committee, that gap is "the most serious long-term problem facing NATO".

"In order to fight effectively alongside the United States, our European allies need more flexible, sustainable forces, be able to move long distances quickly and deliver overwhelming firepower on arrival," he said. "This will mean they need to invest in air lift, and in sea lift, precision strike capabilities and the ability to communicate with the rest of us at the fight."

Meanwhile, Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith acknowledged the United States was slow to accept offers of assistance from NATO countries in the opening weeks of the war on terrorism.

Mr. Feith told the committee Washington had a delayed response to NATO offers of help because officials were busy putting together a war plan.

"It was not the easiest thing in the world to organize receipt of those offers, the integration of those forces into our own war effort," he said. "It took a little time."

The campaign in Afghanistan began October 7, less than a month after the attacks on the World Trade and Pentagon.

Mr. Feith says coordination with NATO and other allies has greatly improved in recent months.

Undersecretary Grossman said nine of the 19 NATO countries have troops participating in the military campaign in Afghanistan, another five countries have sent forces to aid the effort and all but three NATO countries offered military forces.