posted on Oct, 16 2003 @ 08:54 AM
BRUNSSUM, The Netherlands (AFP) Oct 15, 2003
NATO inaugurated Wednesday a 9,000-strong rapid response force designed to dramatically extend the military alliance's reach in the global fight
In a ceremony at NATO's northern European command headquarters, US General James Jones, NATO's top military chief, handed over the colours of the
new force to its first commander, British General Jack Deverell.
"The passing of the colours... to General Deverell will mark what I consider to be one of the most important changes in the NATO alliance since the
signing of the Washington Treaty," which founded NATO in 1949, Jones said.
The force represented "an unambiguous commitment of the alliance's intent to stay militarily relevant in a global context", the US supreme
"For the first time in its history the alliance will have a
joint/combined air, land and sea and special operations force under a single commander."
US ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns said: "The NATO Response Force is an important, innovative new military capability for NATO, and further
evidence of NATO's on-going transformation to meet the new threats from global terrorism."
The force, designed to deploy to hotspots around the globe within five days, will eventually total 21,000 troops when it reaches full capacity in NATO
had previously given figures of 6,000 personnel at launch and 20,000 in 2006.
The contingent represents a radical departure for the 54-year-old Alliance from its roots as the West's protector from the Soviet threat.
It also comes only two months after NATO began its first-ever "out of area" mission beyond Europe by taking command of the International Security
Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan.
The UN Security Council voted unanimously this week to allow ISAF to expand its mandate beyond the Afghan capital Kabul.
The US proposal to launch the force was approved at a landmark NATO summit in Prague last November, at which the Alliance also formally approved its
expansion to 26 members next year.
NATO's enlargement further into eastern Europe will mark another evolution of the alliance into its new role of firefighter in global crises, as it
tries to stay relevant in the post-Soviet world.
The rapid response force's potential on the ground was tested last week at a meeting of NATO defence ministers in the US town of Colorado Springs, in
a fictional scenario involving a terrorist threat in 2007 in the Red Sea.
While the military commanders are trigger-ready to deploy wherever and whenever needed, one potential problem may be in taking the political decision
to send the force into a crisis.
NATO works by consensus, so any decision must be agreed by all member states. In some countries national parliaments must authorize any foreign
deployment of troops.
In Colorado Springs, ministers agreed to study ways of speeding up this decision-making process, with results expected by December.
The response force is being drawn from 14 countries, with Spain providing the largest initial contingent of 2,200 troops.
France, which is not part of NATO's integrated military command, has offered 1,700 personnel and aircraft including one AWACS radar surveillance