NATO considers closer military ties with other countries
NATO is considering creating closer military links with countries like Sweden, Finland, Australia, New Zealand or even Japan and South Korea, in an initiative pushed by the US but opposed by France.
According to the Financial Times, Washington has been gathering support for the idea of a more flexible "global partnership" which would lead to a rationalising of NATO's current web of partnerships but also push for "advanced partnerships" with Nordic, Asian and Australasian countries.
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NATO's secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer is also reported as favouring the plan which is set to be raised at the NATO foreign ministers' meeting in Sofia and at its November summit in Riga.
The main drive behind the initiative is to boost ties with countries that already co-operate with the alliance, such as with Sweden, Finland, New Zealand and Australia participating in the Afganistan mission.
Also, diplomats hint the stronger attachment with NATO could convince Japan to send troops to Afganistan when it redeploys forces from Iraq.
"It makes sense to consider making this community stronger. We need as many countries as possible that share our values and have effective forces on the same team to face all the challenges we are seeing in places such as Afghanistan," Nato’s James Appathurai told the FT.
But France is uneasy about the idea as it fears it would further strengthen the US position in the alliance.
At the moment, the alliance operates a Partnership for Peace programme with 20 countries and it has some formal links to 13 other states in the Gulf and Mediterranean regions.
The plan to consider tighter links with countries beyond the alliance's traditional geographical sphere is also connected with the current debate about NATO reform following the end of the Cold War.
Several European leaders have recently stressed that the alliance needs a new central strategic concept of its tasks and objectives.
At an annual high-profile security conference in Munich in February, Mr de Hoop Scheffer said "NATO is not a global policeman" and called for enhanced relations with democratic states in Asia such as Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
Spanish ex-prime minister Jose Maria Aznar also suggested that NATO should not only resolve its lack of military capabilities, but also undergo a complex institutional reform and re-think its priorities.
The discussion of a new role for NATO was sparked by the then German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder last year who argued that the alliance risked becoming outdated and was "no longer the primary venue where transatlantic partners discuss and co-ordinate strategies."
He proposed setting up a "high-ranking panel of independent figures," which would suggest improvements and called for a greater role for the EU.