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NATO needs to pre-empt terror, Rumsfeld says

©Associated Press
June 7, 2002

BRUSSELS -- The NATO alliance, a defensive bulwark against conventional armies, must take the offensive against shadowy terrorists intent on attacks more devastating than Sept. 11, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told NATO colleagues Thursday.

Pre-emptive military strikes against Iraq or other nations suspected of aiding terrorist networks were not discussed at the NATO meeting, officials said.

Defense ministers endorsed the idea that terrorism is a threat for which they are inadequately prepared, and they vowed to get better.

"Awareness of the new risks that threaten us all must lead to a real will to push through the changes," said French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie.

Speaking to his NATO colleagues at alliance headquarters, Rumsfeld used stark language to argue his view that European governments and the public underestimate the immediacy and gravity of the problem posed by terrorists in pursuit of deadly weapons.

"Attack will happen," he said, according to an outline of his prepared remarks, which were delivered in private. The only questions, he said, are "when, where and how."

He also urged the allies to resist the idea that absolute proof of terrorist intent is needed before taking action. The terrorists hold the initiative, he said, and that must change. Otherwise the Western world will have to live with "catastrophic consequences."

NATO Secretary-General George Robertson called Rumsfeld's presentation "pretty tough" and said it made clear to all present that "germ warfare is now coming onto the agenda" as a big threat.

Asked whether NATO was ready to become an offensive force against terrorist threats, Robertson said, "We are a defense alliance, we remain a defense alliance. We don't go out looking for problems to solve."

Rumsfeld's emphasis on the need to head off terrorist attacks before they happen is not new. But spoken to leaders of a defensive-minded alliance, created 53 years ago to shield Western Europe from a land invasion by the former Soviet Union, the message took on added meaning.

Rumsfeld told the allies they "need to go on the offensive," according to an outline of his remarks provided by aides.

"The spread of weapons of mass destruction into the hands of terrorist states is not theoretical -- it's real, it's dangerous," Rumsfeld said. "If we do not prepare promptly to counter it, we could well experience attacks on our countries that could make the events of Sept. 11 seem modest by comparison."

The NATO meetings included the first session of the NATO-Russia Council, created last month to make the former Cold War foe a limited partner in the alliance. Rumsfeld also held two one-on-one sessions with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov.

The allies agreed they must do more to defend themselves against surprise attack by chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. But they did not explicitly endorse the idea of taking pre-emptive military action against terrorists.

"The range of actions which NATO will be able to take in the future in response to terrorism and other challenges will depend on the success of our efforts to modernize the alliance's military capabilities," the ministers said in a communique.

The ministers reached agreement on three main objectives designed to modernize the alliance:

To develop a list of specific military capabilities that must be upgraded, with specific deadlines for countries to achieve the improvements. These are likely to include such things as more long-range transport aircraft, more precision-guided weapons and more aerial refueling planes.

To complete detailed policies to increase NATO's effectiveness against terrorism by the time alliance heads of government meet in the Czech Republic in November.

To conduct a comprehensive review of NATO's command structure to streamline military arrangements and make the alliance more capable of dispatching combat and support forces over a wide area on short notice.

After a second day of meetings today, Rumsfeld was to head to an air base in Germany to thank NATO crews of AWACS surveillance aircraft that helped patrol American skies after the September attacks. He is scheduled to visit India and Pakistan next week.

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