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NATO Rapid Response Force Conducts Exercise Before Deployment

A major exercise in the Cape Verde Islands successfully tested the readiness of NATO's cutting-edge Rapid Response Force to carry out missions anywhere required on short notice. The exercise -- Steadfast Jaguar -- was also a bid by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to prove it is still a potent provider of global security.

It was the first time land, air and sea components came together in one NATO deployment exercise with some 7,000 sailors, soldiers and airmen. It was also the last test of the Rapid Response Force before it becomes operational in October.

The exercise location - the Cape Verde Archipelago - was chosen specifically to test the Force's ability to carry out complex missions far away from Europe. The scenario included a show of force and a relief operation following a natural disaster.

The Cape Verde government, which enthusiastically invited NATO in, hopes the new relationship will foster closer ties with Europe.

Brigadier-General Walter Spindler, commander of the multinational land force, Eurocorps, says NATO was not in Cape Verde just to flex its muscles. Leave-behind projects will directly benefit the Cape Verdian people. He says, "We are working not only on repairing schools, or doing infrastructure, road damages for example, but we are also working on destruction, and helping them to destruct and destroy unsafe ammunitions."

Controversial Presence

NATO's presence in Africa remains controversial, which is why NATO officials are cautious about any long-term commitments.

Gerald Gahima is a former Deputy Minister of Justice of Rwanda and a Senior Fellow at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington. He says that NATO should work in concert with the United Nations.

"It would be extremely difficult for NATO to impose its will on far-away states without the support of the regional or local partners," says Gahima. "The U.N. is the only universally accepted multilateral institution that has been put in place to ensure international peace and security. It's only logical and, I think, advisable that it should be involved as much as possible in dealing with such crises."

Still, NATO officials are determined to dispel any doubts that the Cold War giant has lost its relevancy, by proving the Alliance is ready to respond to any global crisis. NATO Secretary-General Jaap De Hoop Scheffer agrees ultimately that there must be African solutions to African problems, but he points to NATO's engagement in Sudan, where the alliance airlifted African Union peacekeepers to the conflict-ridden Darfur region.

He says, "You can't say, and we should not say, that NATO now is going to be an active player in Africa. Having said that, what we are doing for the African Union in Darfur, I think, is very important."

Failed States, Magnet for Illicit Groups

Some analysts emphasize that there is a large number of failed states on the African continent. According to the bi-monthly journal Foreign Policy, published by The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, which tracks failed states around the world, 12 of the 20 most vulnerable countries are in Africa.

Tamara Ottaway of The Carnegie Endowment says that, in a failed state, criminal and terrorist activities have free reign.

"And that may mean the drug trade, smuggling of weapons," says Ottaway. "It may mean a staging ground for terrorist networks. In other words, a failed state is a good place from where to operate for all groups that have something to hide because, by definition, in a failed state you do not have government control."

Other Africa watchers voice concern over security threats to important oil producing areas, especially Nigeria's offshore facilities. Nigeria is the fifth largest oil exporter to the U.S.

Princeton Lyman is Director for Africa Policy Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, and a former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria. He says, "There is piracy in that area and there is the worry about the inability of any of the countries, through coastguards or navies to be able to protect those offshore facilities should there be serious efforts by either insurgents or terrorists or pirates to try to attack those installations. And you see in Nigeria an ability of some of those groups to really reach the offshore facilities. From the United States point of view, you don't want to see the Gulf of Guinea become so unstable that you lose what is a significant level of [oil] supply."

Dealing with Brush Fires

Many security specialists, including James Carafano of The Heritage Foundation in Washington, predict that NATO will increasingly adapt to take on anti-terrorist missions. Carafano says, "I think that if we've learned any lesson since 9/11 [i.e., September 11, 2001] it's that the worst time to deal with a threat is when it comes to you. These threats can come from anywhere. It's better to go to the threat and stop it at the source. This is something new for NATO - in a sense, taking the battle outside their shores. You have to figure out logistics, how you're going to supply people, how you're going to support them. These are all things NATO has to work out."

According to Bruce Jackson, a longtime proponent of transforming NATO and a founding member of the American Enterprise Institute's New Atlantic Initiative in Washington, if NATO takes on "these small missions well, the monitoring and peacekeeping, we will not have a major war and that is NATO's responsibility. "So, by handling brush fires -- the protection of civilians, stabilization operations -- NATO will spend the next 50 years without having to fight a major war, which, of course, is the purpose of an effective democratic military," adds Jackson.

Defenders of NATO maintain that the United States should continue its traditional strategy that views the alliance as a foundation for a peaceful world order -- just as it has been for nearly 60 years in Europe.

This story was first broadcast on the English news program,VOA News Now. For other Focus reports click here.