Secret exercise exposes Nato's weaknesses.

Colorado Springs (Colorado) - It starts on a Red Sea island. Terrorists take civilians from Nato countries hostage. Nato launches a 5,000-soldier rescue force.

Then it gets worse. The terrorists have weapons of mass destruction packed into a missile, which they threaten to fire at Europe.

Nato defence chiefs took part in an unprecedented secret exercise here on Wednesday that dramatised the need for agile decision making and more deployable forces to deal with fast-moving crises, officials said.

'The blunt message from Colorado is going to be this: We need real deployable soldiers, not paper armies,' Secretary-General George Robertson told reporters.

The defence ministers and their top brass gathered at Schriever Air Force Base, where they were confronted with the fictional scenario.

'It was hypothetical, but it was designed to deal with real world threats and capabilities,' US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said.

'I think it was useful. I know I learned some things, and I hope others feel the same way.'

He said the exercise - dubbed Dynamic Response 07 - underscored Europe's woeful lack of readily deployable troops for crisis management operations.

He said non-US allies had 1.4 million soldiers in uniform and only 55,000 involved in operations outside their own countries, and yet they complained of military overstretch.

'So long as you have so many unusable soldiers, the taxpayers are being ripped off,' he said.

All 19 members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the seven countries that have been invited to join the alliance next year took part in the exercise. They are gathered here for an informal two-day meeting at a resort in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains.

Ministers from some countries initially were uncomfortable about participating in something that could be construed as a war game devised by the United States, according to diplomatic sources.

US officials have studiously avoided the term 'war game' to describe the event, calling it a 'study seminar' in which the ministers were asked to explore the political and military implications for Nato of rapidly evolving crises.

They said it was the first time Nato defence ministers, chiefs of defence and alliance ambassadors had taken part in such an exercise.

The defence ministers were presented with changing options as the scenario unfolded. They were asked to consider implications for the alliance, but not make decisions, diplomats stressed. -- AFP, Reuters, New York Times

[Source: The Straits Times, Singapore, 10Oct03]

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