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Officials Debate NATO Future - 2002-02-03

As the second day of the International Security Conference got under way in Munich, Germany, the debate centered on the future direction and capabilities of the North Atlantic alliance. European members of NATO admit their weaknesses, but they've also criticized the United States for a lack of cooperation.

As demonstrations continued outside the meeting hall, the world's defense and security leaders got down to business Sunday with self-criticism and criticism of Washington.

After U.S. defense adviser Richard Perle told the conference Saturday that Washington is prepared to go it alone in the war against terrorism rather than wait for allies to rally round, NATO members responded by calling for greater American commitment to its partners.

German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping, one of the hosts of the conference, said he could not deny Europe's military weaknesses. But those weaknesses, he said, were only made worse by the Americans' failure to work on transatlantic projects and improve technology transfer to its partners.

Mr. Scharping said global security and cooperation were to be achieved only if the world could look to European and American cooperation as an example. He called on the United States to work shoulder to shoulder with its friends and allies in its campaign against terrorism, because military action had to derive its legitimacy from multinational approval.

The German minister's remarks reflect a widespread feeling in Europe, and expressed by several delegates at the conference, that the U.S. does not give NATO or its allies the weight and importance they deserve.

NATO Secretary General George Robertson made similar points. He stressed the need for greater technology transfer from the U.S., and warned that if America does not lift some of its restrictions on industrial cooperation, the gap between Europe and America may soon become unbridgeable.

He also reminded Washington that even though the U.S. has conducted its own war in Afghanistan, it received a lot of help and support from its allies. NATO has often been pronounced dead, Mr. Robertson added, but has always shown itself to be indispensable.