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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ministers Approve New NATO Concept

BERLIN -- NATO foreign ministers, meeting in this historic symbol of a formerly divided Europe, approved a plan Monday to give the 47-year-old organization more flexibility to take on post-Cold War challenges.

The alliance "should no longer be organized to meet a threat that no longer exists,'' U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher told a meeting of the alliance's 16 foreign ministers.

"The first objective is to ensure the alliance's military effectiveness so that it is able, in the changing security environment facing Europe, to perform its traditional mission of collective defense,'' said a final communique from the meeting.

At the same time, ministers agreed on flexible procedures "to undertake new roles in changing circumstances.''

The new concept allows creation of small, Europe-only task forces to deal with hotspots and peacekeeping operations using NATO assets.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization launched a long-term study on reforming its command structure, downsizing and eliminating some of its many headquarters.

"The alliance is going to remain the spearhead for managing security problems in Europe,'' Secretary General Javier Solana told the opening session. "For that, it must continue to adapt itself to new challenges. The decisions that we are going to take here will influence both the internal and external transformation of NATO.''

For decades, NATO strategy was based on stopping a massive Soviet advance through Central Europe. With the end of the Cold War and easing of the Russian threat, NATO may be called on for a new range of challenges, such as the operation in Bosnia.

Under a new concept called "combined joint task forces,'' two or more NATO countries could form a force using their own troops and borrowing assets from NATO, such as large transport planes, satellite intelligence and sophisticated communications.

Those assets are mostly American.

Command and political control of such task forces would be turned over to the Western European Union, a 10-nation European organization formed in 1954 but which until now has been largely a toothless talk shop.

Christopher said Monday's decisions had two principal goals. "They will give NATO the flexibility to meet its new, post-Cold War responsibilities while preserving its fundamental mission,'' he said. "They will also strengthen the European dimension within NATO, while maintaining our unity of command and the vital transatlantic link.''

Ultimately, combined joint task forces may never be needed. The Americans say it is likely the United States would be involved in any operation of any consequence.

"The wrangling, and there was a lot of it, came over the words,'' Nicholas Burns, U.S. State Department spokesman, said. "There were compromises on all sides. Every major country involved made compromises.''

NATO officials said particularly thorny points involved the description of what kind of monitoring or advising the United States would insist upon after turning over its assets and personnel to a European-led operation.

"The U.S. reserves the right to get involved in planning, or to participate, which would affect the operation,'' Burns said.