NATO troops: Crack team
for emergent threats
 

The alliance's chief commander General James Jones said the elite force could be a tool to move NATO away from a tradition of defensive reaction to crisis prevention. It was proposed by the United States last year to adapt the Cold War alliance for new security threats.

 

The first US Marine to become Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, Jones said the NATO Response Force could grow to 15,000 or even 25,000. But, the "tip of the spear" would be a small number of expeditionary troops geared for short, sharp conflicts.

   

"By October we want a proof of concept force so people can see what it's like," he told reporters at the 19-nation alliance's military headquarters near Mons in southern Belgium.

 

The strike force would integrate air, land and sea capabilities with built-in sustainability packages, something that had not been attempted before, he said.

 

Washington, which was widely accused of sidelining the alliance after the September 11 attacks, floated the reaction force idea to ensure that in the future NATO could strike quickly when an ally is attacked.

 

Concerns

   

Jones said if the NATO force had existed on September 11, the US would not have had to look around for individual allies in its invasion of Afghanistan.

   

Some Europeans are suspicious that the NATO Response Force will become an "American Foreign Legion", a launch pad for the US to project its military might.

 

Others fear it will marginalise the European Union's emerging Rapid Reaction Force.

   

But Jones said he wanted the initial elements of the NATO force to be Europeans to demonstrate that, despite the transatlantic gulf in military capability, they were up to it.

 

In addition, the force could be used for EU crisis management operations, he said.