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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 October, 2003, 13:48 GMT 14:48 UK
Nato studies future tasks

By Nick Childs
BBC Pentagon correspondent

Nato Secretary General Lord Robertson (left) with US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
Nato is changing in tandem with US military reforms

It might seem an unlikely venue for an international strategic gathering.

In the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, at a pink-washed hotel resort that would not look out of place in Disneyworld, 19 Nato defence ministers and seven from the countries that will be joining next year have gathered for an "informal" two-day meeting in Colorado Springs.

The main problem with the informal nature of the gathering is that it makes it even more difficult to fathom what is actually going on, journalists mused at the reception on the eve of the meeting.

And don't count on any actual decisions coming out of this, officials cautioned.

And yet the meeting comes at a critical time.

Key reforms

The ministers certainly have lots to talk about.

Nato as an alliance is still licking its wounds from the divisions over Iraq.

Canadian Isaf troops in Kabul

It is also implementing a radical reform of its command structure and forces, the key to which will be the creation of a new Nato reaction force of 15-20,000 personnel, designed to react in days rather than weeks or months to crises around the world. It is meant to be fully up and running in 2006.

"It's significant", said the host, the US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

In fact, he may muse over the fact that, despite Washington's troubles with some of its traditional allies over Iraq, Nato is pushing through a reform programme that seems to be driven very much by Mr Rumsfeld's own scheme for military transformation at home.

Indeed, the first thing Nato ministers will be doing is huddling with their chiefs of staff at a secret US base just outside Colorado Springs for a "study seminar". It will focus on the implications of the new reaction force for Alliance crisis management around the world.

It is all a bit murky.

"Don't call it a war game", Pentagon officials were saying - a reflection perhaps of the sensitivities surrounding Nato at the moment.

Turkish role

As the ministers arrived, there was something for Mr Rumsfeld to smile about.

The news was filtering through that Turkey was ready to join the stabilisation operation in Iraq.

"I'm pleased", he said. "It's appreciated." He cautioned that he had only heard media reports of the decision. Still, his response was probably something of an understatement, given the strains on the US military in Iraq right now.

The other likely focus of discussions will be Nato peacekeeping in the Balkans, and more particularly Afghanistan.

The Afghanistan mission is a historic one, out of the Alliance's normal area of interest. And ministers will be talking about the prospect of extending it further. It is a sign, officials say, of just how far Nato is moving to try to make itself still relevant in the new security environment.

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