PRAGUE, Czech Republic, Oct. 13 (UPI) -- NATO's top military commander is seeking an important new security role for private industry and business leaders as part of a new security strategy that will focus on the economic vulnerabilities of the 26-country alliance.
Two immediate and priority projects for NATO officials to develop with private industry are to secure the pipelines bringing Russian oil and gas to Europe against terrorist attacks and to secure ports and merchant shipping, the alliance Supreme Commander, Gen. James Jones of the U.S. Marine Corps said Wednesday.
A further area of NATO interest to secure energy supplies could be the Gulf of Guinea off the West African coast, Jones noted, where piracy, theft, political unrest and tensions between Islam and Christianity combined to present "a serious security problem." Oil companies were already spending more than a billion dollars a year on security in the region, he noted, pointing to the need for NATO and business to confer on the common security concern.
"We need a new alliance and a new awareness of the role of industry and business," Jones told the Program on Atlantic Security Studies in Prague at a conference held alongside former Czech President Vaclav Havel's annual Forum 2000 meetings.
"In the future, we will need heads of industry sitting down with NATO to talk about the security of the industrial base," Jones said, adding he intended to push for these changes at the next summit of the alliance in 2006.
Without specifying which new members may join, Jones told the conference "the future is that the alliance will continue to grow, beyond the current 26 members," and that they would face the complex new threats of the post-Sept. 11 world.
"Terrorism, narco-trafficking, illegal immigration are all closely connected, and you could say that all our NATO members are already under attack," he went on, adding NATO was being reconfigured from the Cold War's purely military machine to the new demands of peacekeeping, preventive and humanitarian operations.
NATO was now able to react much faster, Jones went on, pointing out humanitarian assistance for the U.S. victims of Hurricane Katrina was agreed upon and on the way to the region within 24 hours. NATO assistance for the victims of the Pakistani earthquake was already deployed in the region, he added. Similar rethinking of NATO's traditional role was also required for the post-conflict phase of military operations, he said in what sounded like a discreet comment on the situation in Iraq.
"We have got to have in our planning kit a way that immediately after the conflict to turn the society around and make it better," he said. "You have to have a complete package in the 21st century to deal with the aftermath of crisis."
The NATO commander's remarks, which signal a fundamental new direction for an alliance that for decades was designed to meet a conventional Soviet military threat, came as two former top NATO generals issued a highly critical new report on the military state of the alliance.
The report, issued by former Supreme Commander Gen. Joe Ralston from the United States and German Gen. Klaus Naumann, said Europe's elected leaders had "lacked the political will" to increase defense budgets sufficiently to fund modernization and inter-operability of equipment among the alliance's 26 members. This would have to be fixed fast, the two retired generals concluded in a 97-page report that they have been researching for the past year.
"Failure meaningfully to improve NATO's collective defense capabilities in the coming years would have profoundly negative effects on the ability of European countries to protect their interests, on the viability of NATO as an alliance, and on the ability of Europe to participate in a meaningful way with the United States," the report says.
The report came as the new German government under center-right Chancellor-elect Angela Merkel began grappling with the economic problems of the sluggish German economy with its federal budget now facing its fourth year in a row of breaching the euro-zone official limit of 3 percent of gross domestic product. While U.S. officials and other NATO partners urged Germany to boost its defense spending beyond a very low 1.1 percent of GDP, Merkel has little room for maneuver.
Jones's remarks in Prague should be seen in the context of low defense spending in Europe, little progress on plans for common procurement of big budget military hardware, and the lingering political differences between NATO allies over the Iraq war. Bringing the corporate sector into NATO's councils, if only in a consulting or advisory capacity, could put extra pressure on cash-strapped European governments to increase defense spending in the name of industrial security.