|NATO to follow US into Iraq and|
The overhaul of the command structure, which reduces the 19 nation alliance command centres from about 20 to 11, aims to move NATO away from the defence of Europe to missions outside its traditional geographical area.
NATO agreed on the large reduction of its military bases as part of a drive to revamp the Cold War alliance after differences of opinion last February probably applied the greatest pressure to the organisation in its 54 year history.
US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was among the first to arrive at the headquarters of the alliance.
Before the meeting, he again drew a line between "old" and "new" Europe, repeating the phrase that fuelled the transatlantic rows in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.
His German counterpart, Peter Struck, played down the comment, telling reporters that Rumsfeld "didn't speak about it in the way that he did previously".
Mission to Iraq
The decision came as Spain and Ukraine each committed a brigade to an 8,000-strong multinational division to help stabilise Iraq, which will be led by Poland with NATO's support, officials said.
US diplomats hailed the agreements as signs that NATO was getting back to business after fierce differences over the occupation of Iraq pitted the United States against France and Germany.
"What we have today is an alliance that has come together to say we should play a role in the reconstruction of Iraq, NATO should play a role outside of its traditional geographic areas, including as far away as Afghanistan," a senior US defence official said.
|Other NATO change: Robertson|
will step down at end of the year
"This is a new NATO, a NATO transformed," said alliance Secretary General George Robertson in welcoming the ministers.
"A NATO able to meet its commitments when times are tough from the Straits of Gibraltar through the Balkans to southern Turkey."
The change puts all NATO operations under a single strategic command led by an American, NATO said.
Rapid reaction force
A second strategic command based in Norfolk, Virginia will focus on training and other efforts to transform the NATO militarily into a force capable of deploying rapidly to intervene in far flung crises.
The centrepiece of the transformation effort will be a 20,000-strong NATO Response Force that is ready to deploy within days.
The alliance agreed in May 2002 that NATO should go "out of area" - beyond its traditional European theatre of activities - and culminating in a landmark summit in Prague last November which was dubbed the alliance's "transformation summit."
The ministers also discussed a successor to Robertson, who steps down in December after four years at the helm of the world's premier military alliance.
The frontrunners are Portugal's Antonio Vitorino and Norwegian Defense Minister Kristin Krohn Devold, who if successful would be the first woman in charge of NATO.
Rumsfeld had already met with Vitorino, an EU commissioner, on Wednesday evening.