The commander of NATO forces says member nations are 25 percent short in their commitments for the alliances' Reaction Force, which is supposed to be fully operational by October. That statement indicates no change from what U.S. officials were saying before a NATO defense ministers' meeting last month.
General James Jones says he is the one who has the responsibility of declaring on October first that the Reaction Force is operational. And as of now he is not sure whether he will be able to do that. "The NATO response force has gone through a number of milestones thus far and met each one. But this one is a little bit more at risk than I would like, to be perfectly honest. At this point, we have not generated the force in sufficient numbers for me to be comfortable in standing up here and saying we will be successful," he said.
Based on what officials were saying a month ago, there has not been any progress toward filling the NATO Reaction Force's requirements. This to some extent reflects the situation in other NATO projects, with member nations willing to promise to help but slow to spend the money required and commit the troops and other military resources.
"There is great political will to do more, but unfortunately the other side of that coin is that we haven't seen an equal political will to resource more. And that has to be corrected. When NATO decides to do something, and it really wants to do something, it'll generally come together. But you have to go through that process of getting the political will to instruct the military component," he said.
General Jones says the Reaction Force is an important part of NATO's expansion beyond its traditional domain in Europe. He notes that the organization now has small operations in Iraq and Sudan, in addition to its large and expanding force in Afghanistan. But he says as NATO continues to re-define itself for the 21st Century, and looks to expand its influence well beyond Europe, the Reaction Force is particularly important.
"The very important aspect of the NATO response force is that it is a force that can be task-organized and tailored to meet the specifics of each mission, ranging from disaster relief and humanitarian operations all the way to the higher end of things, forcible entry operations," he said.
General Jones notes that in addition to the October target date for the Reaction Force, NATO plans to take over security operations throughout Afghanistan by the end of the year, and alliance leaders may decide on a further expansion of the alliance at their summit in November. All that is going on while NATO works to change the way it is organized, and the way its operations are financed. General Jones says 2006 could well be the most important year for NATO since it was founded in 1949.