by Agence France-Presse –
(October 9, 2003) — NATO defense chiefs took part in an unusual secret exercise in Colorado yesterday to test the alliance’s military responses in a fictional fast-moving crisis involving terrorists and weapons of mass destruction, officials said.
Held under tight security at Schriever Air Force Base, the exercise was devised to stimulate discussion among alliance defense ministers on a soon-to-be-fielded NATO Response Force capable of intervening in crises far beyond Europe, the officials said.
“The NATO leaders will consider the capabilities needed to confront the threat of terrorists and weapons of mass destruction,” said Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman.
The scenario for the exercise, which was devised by the meeting’s US hosts, was set in a fictional country in 2007, not coincidentally the year after the new NATO force is scheduled to be fully operational, he said. Other details of the scenario remained classified. To encourage an open discussion among the ministers and their chiefs of defense the session was not recorded, according to US sources.
All 19 NATO members and seven countries that have been invited to join the alliance were to take part. They are gathered here for an informal two-day meeting at a resort in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains.
Ministers from some countries initially were uncomfortable about participating in something that could be construed as a war game devised by the United States, according to diplomatic sources.
US officials have studiously avoided the term “war game” to describe the event, calling it a “study seminar” in which the ministers were asked to explore the political and military implications for NATO of rapidly evolving crises.
They said it was the first time NATO defense ministers, chiefs of defense and alliance ambassadors have taken part in such an exercise.
“Much of the discussion is focused on the fact that modern security involves many facets that go beyond just military elements,” said Whitman. “There is a political as well as a military dimension. The discussion will lead to a consideration of factors affecting the NRF – training, capabilities and command processes,” he said.
More broadly, the ministers were discussing how to transform an alliance created to defend Europe into one better suited to meet threats that are less predictable and more likely to arise outside Europe in ungoverned parts of the world.
The leading edge of that transformation is the NATO Response Force, a force of some 15,000 to 20,000 ground troops as well as air and naval components that is being formed to move a combat brigade quickly to world hot spots.
A ceremony formally establishing the unit is to be held October 15 in Brunssum, Netherland, and it is to have an initial capability by next year. France, which is not a member of NATO’s military command structure, nonetheless will be one of the major contributors of ground troops to the force.
US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters Tuesday the NATO Response Force will give the alliance greater agility, responsiveness and lethality. “I suspect that what is learned from that activity will be backed into the militaries of the NATO nations,” Rumsfeld said.
The ministers will take up the more divisive issue of Iraq at an informal dinner Wednesday. Other operational issues, including NATO plans to expand the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan and the future of its peacekeeping operations Bosnia, will be discussed Thursday.
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