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9 December 1998. Thanks to Anonymous.

The New York Times, 09 December 1998

Europe Looks at U.S. NATO Plan Quizzically

By Craig R. Whitney

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- American proposals for a broad new strategic concept for NATO, to counter the global threat from chemical, nuclear and biological weapons, received quizzical responses Tuesday from European allies.

Many allies also resisted U.S. suggestions that the alliance could intervene in regional crises even when it did not have explicit authority from the United Nations.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told other foreign ministers at a meeting in NATO headquarters here that it was hogwash to suggest that possible new missions for the alliance, like building up intelligence on weapons of mass destruction held by countries outside the NATO area, might contradict the original self-defense goals of the North Atlantic Treaty.

Albright was not suggesting, other officials who heard her remarks said, that NATO extend its area of operations to Iraq or Iran or take on the problem of development of nuclear weapons by North Korea, for example. "I made very clear," she said later, "that we are not trying to get NATO to go global."

But the American initiative on weapons of mass destruction, an assertive post-Cold War strategy for an alliance whose primary mission has always been to defend its members' territory, raised questions nonetheless.

Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine of France said Tuesday that he was concerned that if NATO broadened its mission "we would run the risk of diluting the alliance and dividing the allies, which, of course, should not happen."

Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer of Germany said it would be a mistake to make a rule out of the exception that the allies made this fall in Kosovo. NATO threatened bombing to halt government attacks against ethnic Albanian civilians in the Kosovo province of Serbia, even though the U.N. Security Council had not explicitly authorized military action.

Beyond self-defense, France and Germany insisted, NATO missions should have Security Council approval. Albright said the U.S. view was that NATO should address the issue case by case. But, she agreed, "NATO will in all cases act in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Charter."

President Clinton has invited allied leaders to a summit meeting in April in Washington to welcome Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary as new members, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the alliance and to approve a new post-Cold War strategy for the new total of 19 members.

The allies agreed that a new strategic concept would take many more intensive discussions. Their primary concern remains European security, guaranteed by the United States as leader of the alliance.

All the allies welcomed an agreement by Britain and France last week that European countries should have the means to act militarily on their own trouble-prone continent and to take military action, even when the United States or other allies do not want their own troops involved.

Foreign Secretary Robin Cook of Britain, which has long argued that NATO provides all the defense that Europe needs, conceded that in trouble spots like Bosnia or Kosovo, Europeans might want to act on their own before regional insecurity developed into a threat to their own territorial integrity.

Britain and France said last week that they were aiming for a capacity for autonomous military action by the European Union, whose common foreign and security policy has so far been a toothless tiger.

"The United States welcomes a more capable European partner," Albright said, "with modern, flexible military forces capable of putting out fires in Europe's own back yard and working with us through the alliance to defend our common interests."

The United States would prefer the European defense identity to develop in NATO, though. Washington agreed three years ago to a new command structure that would allow its European allies to conduct peacekeeping and other military operations under NATO auspices with their own commanders and without U.S. troops.

The United States agreed with the allies Tuesday to complete the new command structure -- long delayed by disagreements over who should control headquarters -- by the 50th anniversary celebrations.

All the allies expressed great concern about security in Kosovo and faulted the rebels and Serbian authorities in Belgrade for increased tension following Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's decision, under allied pressure, to stop attacks. Serbia is one of two republics that remain in Yugoslavia. Albright said fighting could resume in the spring unless there was a political settlement.

The allies also warned that their 32,000 peacekeepers could not stay in Bosnia forever. Even after three years with the peacekeepers, the allies said, peace is not yet self-sustaining.

Copyright 1998 The New York Times Company