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Thursday, 21 November, 2002, 16:38 GMT
Nato creates rapid response force
View of the summit conference
An alliance of 26 will be unwieldy, critics say
Nato leaders meeting in Prague have decided to set up a response force to react quickly to crisis situations around the world.

Nato must be able to "field forces that can move quickly to wherever they are needed... including in an environment where they might be faced with nuclear, biological and chemical threats," the summit declaration said.

Summit agenda
  • Seven countries offered membership by 2004
  • New strike force for high-intensity warfare
  • New focus on fighting terrorism
  • Command structure to be streamlined

  • The announcement came after the alliance invited seven more countries to join in what will be Nato's biggest expansion in its history.

    The candidates - Bulgaria, Romania, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia - are due to become full members in 2004, swelling the alliance's membership to 26.

    In what he called a defining moment, Nato Secretary General George Robertson said a "transformed Nato will be a stronger, more effective partner for all our friends" - even though many of the new members are bringing with them only small and poorly equipped armies.

    US President George W Bush warned that all Nato members - both new and old - must contribute military strength to the alliance, even if it means increasing defence spending.

    New threats

    BBC Pentagon correspondent Nick Childs says that beyond the enlargement question, the summit is following very much a Pentagon-inspired agenda.

    Anti-Nato protesters in Prague
    Police surrounded several hundred people on an anti-Nato march

    Arguing the need for a rapid reaction force, Mr Bush said: "Never has our need for collective defence been more urgent."

    The Nato response force (NRF) is expected to comprise 20,000 highly equipped air, ground and sea troops able to be deployed quickly to trouble spots around the world and play a key role in the US-led war on terror.

    The force should be fully operational by 2006.

    The leaders spoke of the need to prepare forces to neutralise threats from nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

    I think that even the smallest member can contribute to Nato more than is thought by larger countries

    "Terrorism... poses a grave and growing threat to alliance populations, forces and territory. We are determined to combat this scourge for as long as necessary," the statement went on.

    Leaders also pledged to:

    • streamline the alliance's military command structures

    • beef up their military hardware and narrow the gap between US military might and European forces in areas such as strategic airlift, air-to-air refuelling, precision-guided missiles and suppression of enemy air defences.

    • initiate a Nato missile defence study to examine how it could join the United States in setting up an international shield to intercept incoming missiles.

    BBC defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus says the test for the new alliance will be to honour the commitments made in Prague.

    Some analysts already wonder if the threat from global terrorism is sufficient to encourage countries to reorientate their spending and to give this restyled Nato renewed life, he says. Critics say that Nato - new or old - is increasingly irrelevant.

    New allies

    Praising the newly-invited candidates, Lord Robertson said the had shown "political determination to join Nato", and the alliance itself had been working to ensure that it was "ready to enlarge".

    US F-16 warplane takes off from Czech air base at Caslav this week
    There is a huge gap in hardware capability between the US and the rest of Nato allies
    Mr Bush said accepting new members "will not only add to our military capability, it will refresh the spirit of this great democratic alliance".

    He aimed to placate Russian concerns about its neighbours becoming members of the organisation which once opposed the Soviet Union in the Cold War. Three former Soviet republics - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - were invited to join Nato on Thursday.

    Allied leaders refused to explicitly support US military action to disarm Baghdad, confining themselves to taking "effective action to assist and support the efforts of the UN to ensure full and immediate compliance by Iraq" with the disarmament resolution passed on 8 November.

    The BBC's Stephen Sackur reports
    "Nato's security blanket now stretches to Russia's border"
    Lord Robertson, NATO General Secretary
    "This is a crucially important decision"
    Tony Blair, UK Prime Minister
    "It marks a profound step"
    George Bush, US President
    "We will refresh the spirit of this great democratic alliance"
    Expanding Nato

    Key stories



    See also:

    21 Nov 02 | Europe
    20 Nov 02 | Middle East
    14 Nov 02 | Asia-Pacific
    16 Oct 02 | Politics
    19 Nov 02 | Middle East
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