Military planners work out mechanics of peace

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NATO planners will today start working out how to implement yesterday's invitation to the alliance's former adversaries - more than 20 of them - to get to know Nato in a Partnership For Peace, writes Christopher Bellamy.

Another initiative which John Major strongly supported in the Nato summit yesterday - Combined Joint Task Force headquarters - may provide a way of integrating forces from those potential partners into Nato operations as a way of breaking them in prior to Nato membership.

The Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (Shape) at Mons, 45 minutes from Nato headquarters in Brussels, will work out the detail. Shape has already gained plenty of experience arranging military contacts with former Warsaw Pact countries and republics of the former Soviet Union during the last couple of years. Inspections under the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe treaty first opened the door to co-operation and friendship between former enemies. Arms control inspections have been followed by more active bilateral military co-operation independent of the Partnership For Peace (PFP) initiative.

A company of 120 British soldiers is expected to take part in an exercise in Poland during the summer, and in either early autumn or December, a mechanised company group of 300 troops from 3rd US Infantry Division is to join a similarly sized company of Russians from 27th Guards Motor Rifle Division - Russia's specially trained peace-keeping division - on exercise.

The mechanics of these partnerships still present problems: Nato forces are still not allowed to fly over the eastern part of Germany to get to Poland or Russia, for example, but such difficulties are easily circumvented.

Mr Major yesterday strongly supported the idea of Combined Joint Task Forces (CJTF), an idea which, he said, was 'a sensible and imaginative concept' to supplement but not to replace the integrated military structure. 'The UK will play a leading role in the CJTF in the Nato headquarters at Allied Forces North West Europe in High Wycombe,' he said. 'We also have a strong contribution to make in Allied Forces Central Europe in Germany. These more flexible structures will help Nato to be more responsive to European defence aspirations. Europe cannot afford and does not want separate forces, separate headquarters or separate command structures.'

The CJTF is a Nato organisation, getting round disputes over whether individual countries want to be involved at a particular level. Officers from Nato headquarters would be permanently on standby to move to similar jobs in a CJTF, which, it is envisaged, would be at the corps ('three star') level of command - the same as the current UN Bosnia-Herzegovina command.

Under the CJTF would be national units - Nato or non-Nato - including countries responding to the PFP invitation. In a situation like Bosnia, for example, a Russian battalion could be put under the CJTF alongside British, French and any other Nato or non-Nato battalions.

'It's a means to use Nato assets and experience wherever needed,' said a US officer from Shape yesterday. It is envisaged that a CJTF could be employed if large extra forces were sent to Bosnia to enforce a peace agreement - though there is no sign of one yet.

The British-led Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, based at Bielefeld in Germany, had been thought likely to command such an operation. Such an arrangement would release the predominantly British command to get on with its military job while the CJTF, as a multi-national, Nato body might be more politically acceptable as a buffer between the forces on the ground and ultimate UN command.