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NATO Top General Calls For Proactive Alliance

General James L. Jones.
by Gareth Harding
UPI Chief European Correspondent
Mons, Belgium (UPI) Apr 03, 2006
NATO should become more proactive in preventing conflicts and preempting attacks against its members, the alliance's Supreme Allied Commander Europe, Gen. James L. Jones, told United Press International Friday.

"It is quite possible to envision that NATO will get involved in the concept of preventing conflict through proactive engagement at an early stage," said Jones, appearing to throw his weight behind the United States' controversial principle of preemptive strikes. "It certainly is a wise application of our collective military capabilities to try to prevent conflict and crises rather than sit back and wait for something bad to happen and spend 10 years digging ourselves out."

For most of its 57-year history NATO has been a defensive organization for North Atlantic nations. Set up to repel the Soviet threat, all its major military operations to date -- in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan -- have been conducted after fighting had broken out.

Speaking to a small group of reporters in SHAPE headquarters in Mons, Belgium, Jones said the threats the alliance now faced, such as terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, risks to energy supplies and critical infrastructure, were "quite a bit different from those the alliance faced in the Twentieth Century."

The United States' most senior commander in Europe, who is in charge of all NATO's military operations, said the alliance was increasingly concerned about the vulnerability of energy supplies, whether by sea or land. Frigates from the Brussels-based alliance already escort cargo ships and oil tankers passing through the Mediterranean Sea. But Jones said vessels exposed to piracy on the west and east coasts of Africa also needed protection.

The four-star U.S. general, who saw action in Vietnam, the Gulf and the Balkans, mentioned the drug trade as another key threat faced by NATO nations. "I think we should have heightened concern about the fact that the money that is generated (by the export of drugs to European markets) goes back towards making the bombs that go off in London, Madrid, Istanbul and places like that," he told UPI. "The link between narcotics money and criminal organizations is becoming more and more obvious."

Jones called for NATO to look at how it could disrupt the transport of drugs to European markets. In particular, America's most decorated Marine in Europe said the alliance should work with new members Bulgaria and Romania to crack down on smuggling and drug trafficking in the Black Sea. The United States is currently in negotiations with the Sofia government about setting up a "light footprint" base in Bulgaria.

NATO leaders are expected to discuss how the 26-member alliance can retool itself to face the new threats identified by Jones at a summit in the Latvian capital Riga in November. The Commander of the U.S. European Command said the high-level meeting was a "very important event" in a "pivotal year in the transformation of the alliance."

"The summit offers the alliance a good chance to come together and redefine itself in the eyes of the publics on both sides of the Atlantic and to reaffirm what it stands for against the present and emerging threats that face the alliance," Jones told UPI.

The principle task facing the world's most powerful military club is bringing stability to Afghanistan. NATO, which leads the International Security Assistance Force in the war-torn state, currently has 8,000 troops involved in peacekeeping and reconstruction operations. By July it plans to have an extra 9,000 soldiers in the more volatile south of the country and by the end of August Jones said he hoped to bring most of the American forces fighting Taliban and al-Qaida remnants in the mountainous east under NATO's command. This would bring the total number of troops to almost 25,000. "The ISAF expansion probably represents the largest and biggest challenge for NATO this year," he said.

The Supreme Allied Commander Europe dismissed the recent outbreak of violence in Afghanistan as a "little bit of message sending" and delivered a stark warning to NATO's opponents in the southern provinces. "These forces are going into southern Afghan without caveats. They will make their presence felt. I am quite confident that the capacity they bring and determination they have will send a very strong message to those who are trying to commit acts of violence that they either need to cease or go elsewhere because they will not survive in that environment."

Another major challenge for the alliance in 2006 will be getting the NATO Reaction Force up and running by the target date of Oct.1. The NRF is the centerpiece of the bloc's transformation efforts and aims to have 25,000 troops on permanent standby able to be deployed anywhere in the world at five days notice.

"I think we'll get there," said Jones. "But we still need to generate some more forces so we can declare full operational capability." At present, the force is 25 percent short of troops for the next rotation and 30-35 percent short for the following rotation. "We have to get nations to understand that Oct. 1 is just around the corner."

NATO plans to hold a major exercise on the Cape Verde islands off West Africa between June 1-July 12 to test whether the NRF is fully operational or not. total of 7,000 troops are expected to take part in the exercise, which will be one of the largest in the alliance's history.

Source: United Press International

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