Leaders of the 19-member NATO alliance have agreed to create a rapid response force to boost the organization's ability to face new threats, such as terrorism. The move followed the alliance's decision to accept seven former communist countries as members in 2004.
NATO Secretary General George Robertson hailed what he called the emergence of a new and modernized NATO, fit for 21st Century challenges, like terrorism and so-called rogue states possessing or seeking chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. "NATO's credibility depends fundamentally on its military capability," he said, "and we are the world's largest permanent coalition, and its most effective military organization. But we need to become even more effective to keep our people safe in today's very uncertain world."
NATO's presidents and prime ministers promised to enhance the alliance's military capabilities in key areas, ranging from heavy transport aircraft and air refueling capacity to precision-guided munitions and protection against chemical and biological weapons.
Besides creating the 20,000 man rapid response force to deal with threats to its members' security anywhere in the world, the alliance vowed to streamline its military command arrangements and modernize its headquarters bureaucracy.
"Linked fundamentally to capabilities is NATO's capacity to deal with new threats, such as terrorism and weapons of mass destruction," said Mr. Robertson. "No one is immune from these dangers, and the alliance has a major role to play in defeating them. NATO leaders have, therefore, put the seal on a comprehensive package, which will dramatically improve our ability to do so."
The pledge by each of the allies to boost their military capabilities came after NATO told Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria that they were welcome to join the alliance in 2004. One after the other, the leaders of those seven nations called the invitation a milestone in the arduous, but still unfinished, efforts to reunite Europe after World War II and the Cold War.
What to do about Iraq is an issue that has hovered over this summit. NATO leaders pledged Thursday to take effective action to secure what they called Iraq's full and immediate compliance with United Nations demands for its disarmament. But they stopped short of explicitly endorsing military action.
A unanimously approved statement papered over deep differences within the alliance over a possible war against Iraq. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer reiterated his country's position that it will take no part in any attack on Iraq.