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
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