The new secretary-general of NATO is visiting the United States amid expectations that the Bush administration will ask the alliance to make greater military commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer says the Atlantic alliance must confront challenges together but warns that there are limits to NATO's military capabilities.
Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, a former Dutch foreign minister, is making his first visit to the United States since becoming NATO's secretary-general on January 5.
His two-day visit will include a White House meeting with President Bush on Friday.
The 19-member alliance has changed a lot since the collapse of the Soviet bloc. It is scheduled to welcome seven former Communist states from east-central Europe as new members this year.
And NATO, once focused on the defense of Western Europe and North America, now has troops serving in missions, in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
In fact, administration officials are expected to ask the alliance for greater collective involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq in coming months.
The U.S. representative to NATO, Nicholas Burns, introduced Mr. de Hoop Scheffer at a two-day conference on the alliance's role in world affairs.
"I think what he is going to hear from our leadership over the next day-and-a-half is that we have very ambitious goals in the United States for what NATO should be doing in Afghanistan, by hopefully taking over all military operations within a year or two," he said. "We have an ambitious view that NATO ought to be present collectively in Iraq in 2004 and 2005 and we certainly hope and know that our Secretary General will be working in that direction."
But Mr. de Hoop Scheffer reminded his audience that NATO is a consensus-based alliance. He suggested that any decision on collective military involvement in Iraq will have to come as a result of a decision by all its members.
"And if allies were to decide together that they wish for NATO to do more, it will. For that to be the case, NATO must be a forum where Iraq is discussed and where our common approaches are shaped," he said.
Mr. de Hoop Scheffer pointed out that he is well aware that the United States has taken on heavy military burdens in Iraq, Afghanistan and other "hot spots."
But he told his American audience that other NATO countries also face military challenges - in light of which, he said, the alliance must think about ways in which it can better confront global security issues in the future.
"European and Canadian forces are heavily deployed as well. Germany has some 10,000 troops deployed outside of its borders, including in Afghanistan," said Mr. de Hoop Scheffer. "France has 30,000 troops deployed, including some in all NATO missions. And in taking over command of ISAF [the international peacekeeping force] in Afghanistan, Canada has over 10 percent of its total army across the oceans."
Mr. de Hoop Scheffer said he intends, as secretary-general, to help NATO improve its overall capabilities in coming years.