America warned Western allies yesterday that terrorists could strike at any European capital, maybe with nuclear weapons, as it gave a clear hint that the campaign against terrorism will be extended to countries beyond Afghanistan.
Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, carefully prepared the ground for further American military action against countries seen as havens for terrorists, by delivering a blunt warning of the dangers posed to the West.
Mr Rumsfeld argued that European cities could suffer the same fate as New York or Washington, or something worse. "We need to face the reality that the attacks of 11 September, horrific as they were, may in fact be a dim preview of what is to come if we do not prepare today to defend our people from adversaries with weapons of increasing power and range," he said.
Making his first visit to Nato headquarters in Brussels since 11 September, he offered his allies no assurances that they would be consulted before the campaign against terrorism was widened to include other countries. Instead he repeated his mantra that "the mission determines the coalition and not the coalition, the mission".
Fellow Nato defence ministers were given little idea of which countries the US will target next or in what order.
Although he did not specifically refer to Iraq, Mr Rumsfeld highlighted the "overlap" between nations supporting terrorism and those with "weaponised chemical and biological agents".
He listed a number of nations "that have active al-Qa'ida cells. Yemen is one, Sudan is one. Somalia is one where al-Qa'ida leaders used to spend sometime". Even as he spoke Yemeni special forces were targeting al-Qa'ida suspects.
Mr Rumsfeld said he had not received a blank cheque of support from his allies but that each nation would make its own judgement because of its "own circumstances". However he argued that it was in the interest of European allies to back US action. "Can anyone doubt for a moment that if terrorists or the regimes that support them possessed real missiles, armed with weapons of mass destruction, they would hesitate to use them?... Contemplate the destruction they could wreak in New York, or London or Paris or Berlin with nuclear, chemical or biological weapons."
Although Nato invoked Article five of its founding treaty, declaring that the attacks on America should be treated as an attack on all 19 member states, it has been largely sidelined from the military campaign. Nato surveillance planes are flying over the US, but the alliance has had no front-line role in Afghanistan.
However the Nato secretary general, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, said when asked about a possible extension of the American military campaign to include Iraq that if there was evidence of al-Qa'ida "operating in or being supported by other countries, members of the alliance will want to look at that evidence".Reuse content