NATO defense ministers are meeting this week in the Romanian mountain resort of Poiana Brasov to consider how the alliance can speed up the way it mobilizes and deploys troops to the world's trouble spots. The United States wants the alliance to send more troops into Afghanistan and to quickly work out ways to boost its training mission in Iraq.
The alliance has been embarrassed by delays in rounding up troops and equipment to expand the operations of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan beyond the capital, Kabul. It has now succeeded in setting up five provincial reconstruction teams in the country's north but is also committed to move into the troubled western part of Afghanistan.
U.S. officials say that deployment is not moving as fast as it should. And NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has frequently complained about having to go around allied capitals with a begging bowl asking for more troop commitments in the war-torn country.
Defense ministers of the 26-nation alliance will discuss on Thursday and Friday how to encourage its members to acquire the right capabilities as NATO adapts to its three-year-old mission to conduct operations outside its traditional Euro-Atlantic area. But NATO officials, like Assistant Secretary-General for Defense Planning John Colston, say getting the allies to contribute those capabilities to the alliance is even more important.
"Unless we can address these planning issues effectively, we are not going to be able to implement our operations successfully," he said.
NATO nations agreed at a summit in Istanbul earlier this year that 40 percent of the alliance's land forces should be trained, equipped and structured to be able to deploy on operations like the one in Afghanistan. They also agreed that eight percent of every ally's land forces should be deployable at any one time.
Mr. Colston says it is urgent that these targets be met in the months ahead.
"These targets seem modest, but, if we could achieve them across our allied nations, it would make a significant difference to our ability to put forces into the field," he said.
NATO boosted its presence in Afghanistan from 6,500 troops to about 9,000 to provide protection for last weekend's presidential elections there. But that was only a temporary deployment. The alliance needs more men and materiel for longer-term peacekeeping operations.
The allies also agreed last week on a draft plan to send about 300 instructors to train Iraq's security forces. About 50 are already there. But NATO will need guards and support personnel numbering in the thousands to back up the trainers. NATO planners hope to wrap up the details of the operation by the end of this month, but U.S. officials have expressed their concern that the NATO mission may not be fully in place by the time Iraq holds elections in late January.
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is also expected to urge his colleagues to close the military capabilities gap between the United States and its allies. The U.S. defense budget of $417 billion is twice as high as the combined defense budgets of the other 25 allies put together.