NATO delegates meet in Prague to discuss defence capabilities

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With about two months to go before the NATO summit in Prague gets underway, preparation is in full swing and delegates from member states have been coming together regularly to discuss the individual issues that will take priority at the summit. One such meeting took place in Prague at the end of last week. Dita Asiedu was there and came back with this report:

The NATO summit, to be held in Prague on November 21st and 22nd is expected to focus on three main points; enlargement, new relations, and new capabilities. On Thursday and Friday, the Czech Defence Ministry hosted a two-day conference that focused on the third. The Prague Multinational Capabilities Conference (PMCC), attended by 19 delegations at the level of deputy defence ministers as well as NATO Assistant Secretary General for Defence Planning and Operations Edgar Buckley, served as an opportunity to exchange views and ideas on the use of multinational co-operation and specialisation in the development of NATO's defence capabilities. With much of the conference closed to the public and the possible attack on Iraq dominating international news, there were questions raised as to what was really discussed during the two days in Prague. Edgar Buckley, however, stressed that even a war on Iraq would not stop the NATO summit from going ahead as planned:

"NATO is preparing very seriously for the Prague Summit on the basis of wanting to enlarge, to improve its capabilities, to improve, reform, and develop its relations with its partners, wanting to define its role in tackling terrorism. All these things are of such high priority that they will not be shifted off the agenda. I would be surprised if Iraq were to divert us from that agenda in November."

Although little was said about the commitment of member states both on the national and multi-national level, 1st Czech Deputy Defence Minister Stefan Fule pointed out that the Czech Republic's contribution was no secret:

"The Czech delegation has put on the table very concrete indications of a commitment and these were, when we are talking about role specialisation, very much along what is already well known. That is the NBC (nuclear, biological, and chemical) protection, passive reconnaissance systems, and medical multipurpose hospital. We also made concrete indications where we would like to join the multinational co-operation in other areas and we expect President Havel to be the one to make these concrete set of commitments during the NATO summit in Prague."

However, the Czech Republic's defence sector has not been a problem-free zone, mainly due to the lack of finances in the armed forces as well as inefficient spending. With issues such as the country's plans to buy dozens of new fighter jets that it cannot afford and the inability to send further units on international missions due to forced cuts in spending after the floods, how has the Czech Republic really fared in NATO's eyes, as far as its contributions to the Alliance's development of its defence capabilities are concerned?

"The Czech Republic in common with Poland and Hungary, is still in the process of adjusting to its new responsibilities and its new strategic position within NATO. It's not possible as a new member to just arrive and be doing everything as if one had been in the alliance for a long time. I would say that process has been given a tremendous boost by the preparations for the Prague summit, this capabilities effort that we are making and I think that what Stefan Fule has said indicates that there is quite a lot of work going on now to put the Czech Republic where it wants to be."

According to Mr Buckley, the Prague conference has seen good response from the Alliance's member states who have looked at new commitments in a whole range of areas. Its outcome will be reported to a defence ministers' meeting in Warsaw on Tuesday in order to ensure that the explorations are fruitful.