NATO Recasts Its Role in Europe FOREIGN MINISTERS' MEETING

Article excerpt

AFTER a year in the making, plans to adapt NATO to the post-cold-war era are nearly complete.

Although key characteristics of the Western alliance will remain intact, a strategy review calls for sweeping change within the 16-member organization.

On the political side, NATO wants to strengthen ties with the former members of the Warsaw Pact, though it declines to offer outright membership. (See story below.) On the military side, it is abandoning its single-minded dedication of forces to the Soviet threat in favor of force reductions of 50 percent and a restructuring of the remaining troops so that they are more flexible.

These and other changes, says NATO Secretary-General Manfred Worner, comprise "the most radical transformation of our alliance in its history."

Mr. Worner was speaking at a two-day meeting of NATO foreign ministers here in Copenhagen last week. The ministerial meeting focused on the political dimension of the security review; a meeting of NATO defense ministers two weeks ago tackled the military aspect. The alliance has only one broad area left to rethink - its command structure - before NATO heads of state meet to approve the strategy review in Rome on Nov. 7 and 8.

The mandate to redefine the role of the Atlantic alliance came at the NATO summit in London last July. Since then, the review process has been evolving in "brainstorming sessions" among the 16 ambassadors to NATO. The ambassadors can be accompanied by up to a half-dozen staff members, but these sessions allow only a notetaker. The result is a "much freer atmosphere than usual," says a NATO diplomat and the process "in part has been people just working out in their own minds" the implication of the sea-change in East-West relations.

NATO's opening up to the former Warsaw Pact members is one result of the strategy review and is the key feature of the alliance's new political face.

Several former members of the Warsaw Pact want to join NATO, but the alliance has refused, one reason being that this would antagonize the Soviet Union. This strongly worded statement, however, "is as close as we can come" to granting outright membership, says the NATO diplomat.

The foreign ministers in Copenhagen cautioned repeatedly that the statement refers only to NATO's political commitment to supporting democracy in Eastern Europe, including the Soviet Union. It does not extend a military guarantee to the region, they emphasized. Nor, said United States Secretary of State James Baker III, is NATO pointing to any one source - such as Moscow - when it talks about the threat of "coercion or intimidation."

It was privately admitted, however, that the wording is ambiguous. …