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NATO Unease Over Bush 'No-Warning' Attack Plans

11 June 2002

President Bush is preparing to present to Congress his new strike-first policy against terrorists and rogue states armed with weapons of mass destruction, in a radical shift in strategy that could cause alarm among America's NATO allies.

Under the President's expected security change, the United States would reserve the right to launch nowarning pre-emptive action against terrorist states or groups suspected of plotting to use weapons of mass destruction against American targets.

Dick Cheney, the US Vice-President, gave warning in a speech: We have enemies with nothing to defend. A group like al-Qaeda cannot be deterred or placated or reasoned with at a conference table. He said that grave threats were accumulating against the United States.

Inaction will only bring them closer. We will not wait until it is too late.

Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary, said yesterday that the document outlining the new strategy, drawn up by the National Security Council, would be released to Congress and to the public in the early autumn.

The Pentagon is in the process of developing a Joint Stealth Task Force, consisting of special operations troops, radar-evading bombers and ballistic-missile submarines converted to carry troops and fire conventionally armed cruise missiles, for mounting preemptive raids, according to The Washington Post.

NATO has developed its own strategic concept for dealing with future threats, including international terrorism, but the language does not mention preemptive action.

Last week, when asked if he could support such a change in strategy, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, the NATO Secretary-General, said that the alliance was a defensive organization, adding: We do not go looking for problems to solve.

Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defense Secretary, countered by saying that it was difficult to distinguish between offensive and defensive. The American campaign in Afghanistan, he said, was action take in self-defense against the al-Qaeda terrorists who had attacked the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11.

NATO sources said that although Lord Robertson had appeared to rule out preemptive action by NATO, the circumstances would be very different if the United States or another alliance country was facing an imminent attack. We hope we won t need to have a big debate on this issue, one NATO diplomat said.

The sources said there were no plans at present to alter the wording of the alliance s Strategic Concept, agreed at NATO's last summit, which was in Washington in 1999.

NATO leaders are next due to hold a summit in Prague in November and the US may put pressure on the rest of the alliance to update the text of the Strategic Concept to take into account the new circumstances after the September 11 attacks. If the wording is not changed, it might be difficult for the US to appeal for NATO support if the White House decided to take preemptive action against a terrorist state.

Yesterday a senior US official was quoted in The Washington Post as saying that the new National Security Strategy would include for the first time preemption and defensive intervention as options for striking at rogue states or terrorist organizations suspected of plotting to use weapons of mass destruction against America.

Mr Bush gave the clearest indication of this dramatic change in policy in a speech ten days ago. It would be a radical departure from America s previous strategy of deterrence and containment .

The American official said: Since September 11, the nature of the enemy has changed, the nature of the threat has changed and so the response has to change.

NATO diplomatic sources said that the issue was likely to provoke a hell of a debate in the alliance. One diplomat questioned whether preemptive action would be justified if a potential enemy acquired weapons of mass destruction or only when it was clear that the enemy had the intention of using them.

However, the sources said that if there was unquestionable Intelligence giving warning of an imminent nuclear, chemical or biological attack by a terrorist state or organization, the US or any other country in NATO should have the right to act first in self-defense. The sources said that NATO's Strategic Concept did not preclude preemptive action, even if it did not specifically authorize it. It would be a matter of interpretation, one diplomat said.

Michael Evans
Published by the Times © 2002 Times Newspapers Ltd.

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