Atlantic allies will march to a new tune

Nato's expansion will coincide with a fundamental operational shake-up, writes Christopher Bellamy
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The Independent Online
Expanding Nato is expected to be easier than enlarging the European Union. As Robert Hunter, US ambassador to Nato, told the Royal United Services Institute in London on Wednesday, Nato enlargement will take place in parallel with reorganisation of the alliance.

As it expands to cover more countries, possibly four by 1999, it will "de-layer". Nato has 67 military headquarters, command bunkers with large staffs, and sophisticated communications; 30 will be abolished as it adjusts to the new world order and new members.

The Nato Military Committee, comprising military chiefs of 15 of its 16 member-states, met this week near Lisbon to discuss reorganisation, which centres on reducing the number of command levels. There are now four, from the highest, strategic command centres in Belgium and the US down to the commands of individual fleets, armies and air forces.

The Military Committee has recommended reducing the number of layers to three. Their proposals will go to a meeting of Nato defence ministers at Bergen, Norway, on 26 September. The Military committee chairman, General Klaus Naumann, said: "The decision will be taken by the political authorities, not by us."

But the political authorities are unlikely to challenge the leaner, meaner Nato organisation. The top level of command will remain unchanged, with two strategic headquarters: the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (Shape) near Mons, and Supreme Allied Command Atlantic (Saclant), based at Norfolk, Virginia.

It will acquire greater significance, as Nato military experts have recommended there should be permanent Russian missions at the two headquarters, thus assuaging Moscow's concerns about Nato expansion. The Russians are keen to have a special relationship with Nato at the highest level, which the new arrangements would guarantee. Mr Hunter said the presence of a Russian brigade, effectively under Nato command, in the US sector in Bosnia was an indicator of things to come.

The second, regional, level would be restructured to reduce the number of commands from the present nine. Within Shape's area there are three commands - Northern Central and Southern Europe. Within Saclant's area there are three areas - eastern and western Atlantic and Iberia, and also commands for US strike fleets, all submarines in the Atlantic and the Standing Naval Force Atlantic. Although no firm decision has been made, the number of these "major subordinate commands" could be reduced to three or four. Below that, there are two more layers of Nato command before individual national units. These will also be restructured.

The restructuring will proceed in parallel with accession of new members. Mr Hunter said: "I suspect that the first new allies will join Nato on or before the 50th anniversary on April 4, 1999." He stressed though that there was no halfway house to Nato membership.

He said many of the conditions for entering into a commitment as serious as Nato membership were close to being fulfilled by the most likely candidates, which include Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia, and that there would be more than one intake of new members. The most time-consuming requirement will be the need for the parliaments of the countries wishing to join to ratify membership - it is not an autocratic decision by national governments.

All Nato members have to be producers, as well as consumers of security, so their armed forces have to meet Nato standards of effectiveness.

Neither must Nato expansion lead to a new iron curtain east of the old one.

A number of bilateral and trilateral arrangements, including the arrangement between Britain, Poland and Ukraine announced last week, will help to bridge any gap that might otherwise emerge between Nato and non-Nato.

Increasing military co-operation between Nato and East European states under the Partnership for Peace initiative is further breaking down the barriers to the East Europeans joining.

Nato's prime requirements are that new members must have sufficient staff officers trained in the two official Nato languages, English and French.

They must have no territorial ambitions and must develop command, control and communications networks compatible with Nato's. With enough linguists and the right radios, they will be able to join.