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'New Europe' Allies Line Up to Help US in Iraq - 2003-05-21


America's allies in what Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld calls "the New Europe" have lined up to help out in the U.S. military effort in Iraq. The contributions of Baltic and East European states are triggering a shift in the Pentagon's thinking about who should benefit from future military to military cooperation.

With the U.S. military shouldering most of the responsibilities in Iraq, Mr. Rumsfeld found it worthwhile recently to point out some of the other countries now offering assistance.

"The Czech Republic has deployed a field hospital to Basra and sent aid convoys with medicine, drinking water, tents and blankets," he said. "Greece has contributed some 20 tons of food and clothing. Lithuania has sent orthopedic surgery specialists to Um-Qasr. Spain has a 150-person health team in Iraq and is working to repair electrical and water systems in the country as well."

Interestingly, two of the only four countries he named out of a list of 66 coalition contributors are part of what Mr. Rumsfeld has previously identified as the "New Europe", former Soviet-bloc states of the Baltic region and Eastern Europe.

It is a description that reflects a shift in the way the United States is looking at Europe, as the Defense Secretary noted back in January as relations with Iraq war critics France and Germany soured.

"You're thinking of Europe as Germany and France. I don't. I think that's old Europe. If you look at the entire NATO Europe today, the center of gravity is shifting to the east," he said at the time.

The Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary joined NATO in 1999. Seven more Baltic and East European countries are expected to join by the time of the next NATO summit in May of next year.

The seven are Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. In addition, Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia are looking to join.

Military officials acknowledge it may be a sign of interest in allying with the United States that has prompted so many Baltic and East European countries to offer assistance to the U.S. effort in Iraq.

Besides the contributions noted publicly by Mr. Rumsfeld by the Czech Republic and Lithuania, the Pentagon says Albania has deployed an infantry company in northern Iraq and Bulgaria is preparing to deploy a light infantry unit.

Poland deployed Special Operations forces, a chemical weapons unit and is planning to send an entire division of troops to take over military responsibilities in one of three major sectors of Iraq. Romania has sent in chemical weapons specialists as have the Slovak Republic and Ukraine.

And while Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz toured Europe last week, Macedonia announced it will send a 40-man military unit to Iraq next month.

Later, in Romania, Mr. Wolfowitz hailed the expansion of NATO and the contributions of America's new allies in the war in Iraq. He said it was no surprise to him that countries formerly the victims of tyranny are taking a leading role in the liberation of Iraq.

Pentagon officials say the expansion eastwards of NATO is enabling defense planners to consider new options in the basing of American forces in Europe. No decisions have yet been made. But senior officials say a key objective in the current review is to figure out how to more effectively deploy U.S. forces in Europe so that they can be more effective outside of the continent.

That could see U.S. forces moving to bases in Poland or Bulgaria, for example, perhaps not on a permanent basis but on an as-needed base access arrangement.

In the meantime, Mr. Rumsfeld is vowing closer cooperation with those countries that want to work closely with the United States, like those in Eastern Europe.

He says military relations with West European countries are not necessarily being scaled back. But as he signaled at a recent news briefing, when it comes to future military-to-military contacts internationally, with resources limited, the Pentagon intends to look first at cooperating with countries that have been helpful in Iraq.

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