NATO defense ministers are meeting in Brussels to discuss ways to make their countries' armed forces more capable of countering international terrorism. United States wants its allies to spend more on defense and urgently correct shortcomings in their military capabilities.
The top item on the agenda of the two-day meeting is how to close the capabilities gap between the United States and its allies.
The war in Afghanistan, like the war in Kosovo three years ago, has exposed disparities between the U.S. armed forces and those of other NATO nations. Alliance officials are worried that Europe's perennial unwillingness to spend more for defense has undermined its credibility with the United States and damaged NATO as a cohesive military coalition.
NATO Secretary-General George Robertson has been a tireless campaigner for more military spending by the allies and the need for NATO to gear up for the fight against terrorism. He wants the 19-member alliance to agree on a package of military reforms in the coming months. "NATO's summit in Prague in November must be a watershed in our efforts to ensure our forces are properly organized and equipped for their future missions, even if that means additional resources for defense and security and, indeed, substantial changes of priority inside our defense programs," he said.
Recognizing budgetary constraints on many European governments, Mr. Robertson and other NATO officials are suggesting that the smaller allies specialize in some areas or pool resources to overcome the capabilities gap. They point to Norway's mountain troops, who are fighting alongside U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and to Czech military units specialized in defending against chemical and germ warfare as examples of how smaller nations can develop useful roles within the alliance.
The United States wants the allies to concentrate on obvious areas for improvements in their capabilities. U.S. officials say the allies need to be able to move troops quickly by air, refuel planes in flight, and deploy precision-guided munitions.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says new threats such as terrorism and cyber-attacks give the advantage to the attacker and that NATO must boost its ability to counter such challenges. "The militaries of the NATO nations clearly have to recognize that, that calls for several things," he said. "It calls, in some cases, for a number of countries to increase their defense budgets and see that they are putting the resources in that will enable NATO and our countries, individually and collectively, to be able to contribute to peace and stability in the period ahead."
The NATO defense ministers are holding their first meeting with their Russian counterpart Sergei Ivanov, since the creation last week of the NATO-Russia Council. The council gives Moscow a say in NATO decisions on fighting terrorism and preventing the spread of chemical and biological weapons.
NATO leaders hope the ministers can work out a series of cooperation projects with their new Russian partner.