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With 'New NATO' in Mind, Rumsfeld Starts Europe Trip

June 10, 2003|Esther Schrader | Times Staff Writer

LISBON -- Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld began a four-day European swing Monday in which he will meet with NATO defense ministers in Brussels to discuss the future of the alliance and with German leaders in Munich who opposed the war in Iraq.

NATO nations agreed unanimously last month to support a Polish-led stabilization effort in south-central Iraq but have not committed themselves to what that support will entail. Earlier, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization agreed to take charge of peacekeeping efforts in Afghanistan, starting in August.

Rumsfeld is in Lisbon to discuss Portugal's proposal for the establishment of a southern NATO headquarters in Oeiras, outside this capital city, and its plans to send a military police force of about 120 soldiers to Iraq.

Rumsfeld travels to Albania this afternoon. The economically struggling, formerly communist country is, along with its Eastern European neighbors Croatia and Macedonia, eager to join NATO. The trip takes place as the Pentagon moves to strengthen military bonds with the countries of the former Eastern Bloc and to fundamentally revamp the positioning of U.S. forces in Europe and around the world to meet new threats.

Pentagon officials have said repeatedly in recent weeks that the 120,000 U.S. troops based in Europe should be positioned in places from where they can be deployed to trouble spots much more rapidly, taking advantage of equipment maintained at forward bases by skeleton crews but available for use on a moment's notice.

Germany, where 60,000 U.S. troops are based, along with their families, was an ideal place to position American military personnel when the Soviet Union presented a major threat. But today it is an increasingly awkward location for moving forces to what U.S. defense officials call the "arc of instability" that runs from the Andes in Latin America to North Africa, the Middle East and into Southeast Asia.

The forces that are in Germany "tend to be somewhat of a legacy in that they are oriented to the defense of Western Europe and the threat from the Soviet Union, which doesn't really exist," Rumsfeld said. "So the question isn't, what do you need to defend against the Soviet Union, since there's no Soviet Union, the question is how do you want to be arranged around the world. And that is how we're addressing it."

Albania, with its hundreds of miles of coastline on the Adriatic Sea, is one of the countries where the Pentagon is seeking to establish new basing arrangements. "It's not about 'old Europe' and 'new Europe,' " a senior Pentagon official said of the trip, referring to Rumsfeld's characterization of Germany and other countries that opposed the war in Iraq as "old Europe."

"If he had to say it again, he'd say, 'old NATO/new NATO.' There is just a wave of vital new members eager to contribute to the alliance."

The new democracies of Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia have been invited to join NATO next year. Albania, Croatia and Macedonia aspire to follow.

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