In New NATO, a Division of Military Labor ; US Attempts to Create a New Form of Military Alliance. Will It Work against Iraq?

Article excerpt

A Huey UH-1 helicopter swoops in above a boarded-up building and disgorges a team of Slovenian Special Forces troops, who slide down ropes and leap onto a small balcony.

The troops toss in a "flash-bang" grenade, which explodes with a blinding light and noise to disorient the enemy. Then they storm the building, rescuing a "hostage" within minutes.

In a viewing stand below, wearing a camouflaged Slovenian field jacket, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sizes up the demonstration with a word: "Excellent!"

Here in the foothills of the Alps, soldiers of this tiny European nation want to show the world they have the right stuff. Although few in number, their skill is a crucial ingredient in what Washington is promoting as a new kind of global military alliance - one that pools specialized forces across national borders.

The idea is to exploit "niche" capabilities to fill gaps in the resources of the broader alliance by drawing either from individual countries or from a consortium of nations. In essence, it is a military division of labor in which countries make valued - if narrow - contributions while gaining protection under an umbrella of collective defense.

For Slovenia and six other candidate nations, the specialized skills are a vehicle for gaining entry to NATO, which formally invited them to join last week. Some "niche" forces in high demand include special forces troops, mountain soldiers, engineers, peacekeepers, and explosive experts who dispose of ordinances left behind from conflicts.

Slovenia, a mountainous, former republic of Yugoslavia with 2 million people, is eager to prove its ability to contribute to global security. Recently, Slovenia dispatched military police and helicopter troops to Bosnia, demining teams to Afghanistan, and supplied 80 metric tons of inherited Yugoslav small arms and ammunition to the fledgling Afghan national Army. A Slovenian is also among the many foreign liaison officers stationed at US Central Command in Tampa, Fla., the headquarters for the Afghan campaign.

Pentagon officials say that the willingness of smaller nations to play a role - without developing full-scale, "360 degree" militaries of their own - has helped break down resistance to the "niche" idea among NATO members.

"Frankly, in years gone by, there had been some hesitation about this, that somehow specialization - real specialization - was something you shouldn't do in the alliance," says a senior Pentagon official. …