NYT - Mutual assurances fail to allay Nato concerns

December 15, 1999

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The NATO allies swapped mutual assurances Wednesday about new defense initiatives planned separately by the European Union and the United States, but major questions persisted.

Concerns about the implications of the EU's military aspirations and a U.S. national missile shield envisaged by Washington dominated talks as foreign ministers met at alliance headquarters for their final conference of 1999.

European Union members of NATO assured the eight non-EU allies that their plan for an autonomous military capability did not mean they were out to create a ``club within a club'' inside the Atlantic alliance, a NATO official said.

The United States assured Europe that its proposed missile defense to shield U.S. territory from strikes by ``rogue states'' would not wreck arms control treaties with Russia or lead to a fortress America decoupled from transatlantic allies.

``We are finding our way forward in what is a dynamic new situation,'' NATO Secretary General George Robertson said. The alliance was made up of 19 democracies and its great strength lay in their diversity, he told a news conference.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer told reporters that ''all European allies made it clear that they are deeply concerned about double security standards in the alliance'' resulting from a U.S. missile shield.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott acknowledged controversy on the issue but said there was ``enough common ground to move forward together as an Alliance,'' including consideration of a ``collective'' missile shield.

Russia warns it may ditch the key Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty if Washington goes ahead unilaterally.

``The U.S. assured allies a decision on (missile defense) would only be taken after full consultation,'' Robertson said.


A final communique was lukewarm about the EU plan to create a 60,000-strong rapid reaction corps by 2003 for Europeans-only crisis management when NATO is not engaged.

It simply ``noted'' rather than ``welcomed'' the EU decision, taken at a summit last weekend in Helsinki, and underlined that EU access to NATO assets for such missions would be decided ``on a case by case basis and by consensus.''

Turkey, which has warned the plan could cause problems in NATO if non-EU allies felt they were being excluded, was reported to have insisted on the cautious language.

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook the concerns of other non-EU members such as Turkey and Norway were legitimate since the EU would need to use ``common assets of NATO created by all members who must consent to their use.''

But he insisted there was ``no great contradiction of interests.'' All allies had been assured they would have the same rights as any other participant in future missions.

Voicing concern felt in the United States that the EU project should not detract from NATO's own drive to improve capabilities, Robertson said Europe ``must deliver.''

``Intentions are all very good and new institutions are very useful but it is results that count. New and novel institutions will not stop a crisis. The have to be connected to real, relevant military capability,'' the NATO chief said.

He urged ``maximum transparency and complementarity with NATO'' as the alliance and the EU set out to create mechanisms in the coming year for implementing the eventual new force.


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