The NATO Summit at Prague, 2002
CRS Report for Congress
The NATO Summit at Prague, 2002
Specialist in European Affairs
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
In November 2002, the NATO allies met in Prague at the “Transformation” summit
in an attempt to define part of the alliance’s mission to combat against terrorism and the
proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. They pledged to obtain the military
capabilities to accomplish that mission. Not all allies agree on the implications of such
policies. The allies also named seven states as eligible for membership. This report will
not be updated. See also CRS Report RL32342, NATO and the European Union, and
CRS Report RS21659, NATO's Prague Capabilities Commitment.
The “Transformation” Summit
On November 21-22, 2002, the NATO allies met in a “Transformation” summit in
Prague. They sought to culminate allied efforts to change from a military alliance geared
for conflict against the Soviet Union to a more flexible alliance with new capabilities for
new threats. They opened the door to democratic candidate states and agreed to a
forward-looking program for partnership countries able to contribute to security.
The Bush Administration, with the support of then Secretary General George
Robertson, had been the driving force for a changed NATO. The Administration sought
to use the summit to revitalize the alliance by clearly stating NATO’s mission, securing
pledges of capabilities to accomplish that mission, and embracing enlargement. Some
allies resisted aspects of the Administration’s design for NATO.
Mission and Capabilities1
During the Cold War, NATO’s mission was to provide collective defense against the
Soviet threat in Europe. Some allies’ military structures remain geared for this threat, even
though Russian conventional forces are weak and in disarray. The Bush Administration
wishes to redefine the principal threats as terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of
mass destruction. Administration officials believe that the United States is “at war” today
1 This section is based primarily on interviews of U.S. and European officials, summer-fall 2002.
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
against the sources of these new threats and that the allies must be prepared to engage
adversaries in North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia to ensure security.
The Europeans, in contrast, with few exceptions, do not believe that they are at war,
and any policy of moving outside the NATO Treaty area of Europe remains a
controversial one. Most European allies believe that terrorism can be subdued, not
through military action, but primarily through elimination of its underlying causes and
through law-enforcement measures.
At NATO’s May 2002 ministerial meeting in Reykjavik, the allies agreed that “to
carry out the full range of its missions, NATO must be able to field forces that can move
quickly to wherever they are needed, sustain operations over distance and time, and
achieve their objectives.”2 The European allies had resisted such a clear statement of
moving “out-of-area” until the Reykjavik meeting, and few have dedicated the resources
to develop the mobile forces necessary to achieve such an objective. Some Bush
Administration officials are now describing NATO’s mission as global, most prominently,
Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. In December 2001, when asked what NATO’s area of
operations should be, he responded: “The only way to deal with the terrorist network
that’s global is to go after it where it is.”3
For some allies, Reykjavik did not supply a definitive word on NATO’s mission and
reach. Above all, French, German, and Belgian officials have been wary of out-of-area
missions; in raising doubts, they tend to cite the Administration’s new doctrine of “pre-
emptive” or “preventive” action against terrorist or WMD threats. They do not wish
NATO to become the instrument of U.S. policy against such threats, unless guidelines for
taking NATO out-of-area are more clearly agreed. For example, Paris contends that a
U.N. resolution should be required for any such out-of-area NATO action. The Germans,
and some other allies, believe that the principal threats to European security remain on the
continent, primarily in the Balkans, where instability, in their view, may yet again result
in refugee flows and ultra-nationalist ideas and conflicts. Berlin believes that “collective
security,” in the form of robust peace operations, should remain NATO’s principal
objective. The Iraq war of 2003, undertaken primarily on the mistaken assumption that
Iraq was producing WMD, has further damaged U.S. leadership of the alliance.
However, in 2002, the Bush Administration took several actions in an attempt to
ensure that the summit would move the alliance towards its own view of mission and
!It led efforts to replace the Defense Capability Initiative of 1999, which
listed 58 capability goals that NATO should obtain, with a “Prague
Capabilities Commitment” (PCC). The PCC lists pledges by member
states to acquire a smaller list of key capabilities: strategic airlift, air-to-
air refueling, precision-guided munitions, secure communications, and
special forces. President Bush called heads of government and asked
them to make specific pledges at Prague to purchase selected capabilities.
2 NATO Communiqué, Paragraph 5, Reykjavik, May 14, 2002.
3 Rumsfeld press conference, Brussels, Dec. 18, 2001.
!At Prague, there was announcement of a NATO Response Force (NRF),
composed of 20,000 men kept in a high-readiness status, for high-
intensity conflict, and able to reach its destination within 7-30 days of a
NATO decision to use it. The NRF would be an “insertion force,” partly
U.S. but mostly European in composition, for rapid movement primarily
against terrorist and WMD threats.
The Prague Capabilities Commitment and the NATO Response Force are closely
related in political terms. The Administration is calling upon allies to spend more on
defense for capabilities to equip the NRF, as well as capabilities for larger, mobile forces
that might follow after the insertion of the NRF. Administration officials described these
two initiatives to the allies as a test of allied will to revitalize NATO. Implicit in these
initiatives is a view that only governments with sharply improved capabilities will play
a role in “coalitions of the willing” against adversaries, and that only such governments
would therefore have an important voice in allied decision-making.
The allies have accepted these two Administration initiatives in general terms,
although with a number of reservations. Some allies, such as Germany, contend that EU-
imposed budget strictures prevent their spending appreciably more on defense. Many also
contend that U.S. restrictions on technology transfer impede the purchase of such items
as precision-guided munitions and ground surveillance radar.
The NRF is now operational and has approximately 18,000 troops. The PCC,
however, remains a work in progress. There has been some progress in purchasing or
leasing sea lift and even more progress in developing a chemical/biological/radiological
defense battalion. Yet there remain serious shortfalls in aerial refuelers and air lift.
Reforming the NATO Command Structure. The Administration was moved
forward with an initiative to reduce the number of NATO commands and to streamline
the ones that remain. Most controversial was the transformation of SACLANT (Supreme
Allied Command Atlantic, in Norfolk) from a strategic command to a “functional”
command. The Europeans have long desired maintaining the two strategic commands,
one in Europe (SACEUR) and one in the United States, in part as a political symbol of
transatlantic linkage. The Administration wished to modify SACLANT to a command
that would work on conceptual issues, such as developing new doctrines and new forces,
devising experimental training for such forces, and then putting them into the field.
Ultimately, the allies accepted this proposal, and the new command is now operational.
Enlargement of NATO Membership
The alliance viewed enlargement as a secondary issue for the summit. At Prague,
NATO issued invitations for membership to Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Slovenia,
Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania.
Each candidate had pursued an individual Membership Action Plan (MAP)
since1999 to improve democratic structures and military capabilities and procedures.
Some Administration officials contended that the Baltic states, across the board, had made
the most progress and that Slovakia had made considerable strides in military
improvements. Slovakia’s September 2002 elections returned to power key elements of
an existing reform government. Slovenia had made significant strides in political and
economic structures, but public support for NATO membership had wavered. Bulgaria,
with minimal resources, had embraced key concepts of NATO military procedures, but
it had a government that was increasingly unpopular and was following an uncertain
course of political and economic reform. Corruption also remained endemic there.
Romania was the most controversial candidate. Bucharest had made strides in military
reform and provided bases and overflight rights for the conflict in Afghanistan, but
corruption affected policies of its government from border control to procurement to
Compared to the three previous successful candidates (Poland, the Czech Republic,
and Hungary), the new candidate states had less well-developed political and economic
structures and militaries with a longer road to travel to reach NATO standards. At the
same time, new members normally require a decade or more to approach those standards.
Officials in allied states have tended to describe the Prague round of enlargement as a
“political” rather than a strategic round, undertaken above all to enhance stability in
Europe by securing governments in NATO, where their paths to strong democracy can be
encouraged. In the end, NATO accepted the seven states’ candidacies and welcomed
them to full membership on March 29, 2004.
The allies were in general agreement that Partnership for Peace (PfP) and other
programs meant to improve cooperation with non-member states had been successful, and
should be extended and enhanced. Strengthening partnerships was the third goal of the
The NATO-Russia Council was formed in May 2002. Most progress has been made
on the issue of joint peacekeeping arrangements between NATO and Russia, with less
progress over such issues as stemming proliferation. Some allied governments believe
that the Russians wish to use the Council to revive an earlier era, in which Washington
and Moscow were the two principal interlocutors in resolving key matters of European
security. U.S. officials believe that NATO should give the Russians time to be
“educated” in the ways of working with an alliance of independent, sovereign states.
Meetings of the NATO-Ukraine working group have often been difficult. The allies
viewed Kiev as having made little progress on the road to democratic and military reform.
The Bush Administration believed that, in violation of U.N. sanctions, the now-departed
Kuchma government may have sold a Soviet-era early-warning system, called
“Kolchuga,”4 to Iraq, a step that led to the suspension of some U.S. aid. The allies
pointedly did not invite Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma to the summit. However,
with the election of a reform-minded government in December 2004, NATO is assertively
inviting Kiev to review its interest in membership.
From a strategic viewpoint, the Administration believes that partnership programs
with Central Asian states have borne fruit in the Afghan conflict, where Uzbekistan,
above all, has provided important support. U.S. officials now speak of extending the
alliance one day into Central Asia.
4 “Ukraine Fails to Reassure West on Iraq,” Washington Post, Nov. 6, 2002, p. A13.
Debate over the Alliance’s Future
In the background of discussions at the summit were concerns over the alliance’s
future. Some Administration officials sharply criticized the allies for their failure to
develop forces to respond to today’s threats and for the cumbersome decision-making
procedures that seem to impede steps to make NATO more flexible.
Some allies continue to have very different views of the threat to European and allied
security. While some states, such as France, Germany, and Italy, see a growing threat
from terrorism and proliferation, they believe that the United States is narrowly obsessed
with such issues, and that political, diplomatic, and law-enforcement initiatives can
manage much of the current threat. They do agree with the Administration that law
enforcement measures are a key element in combating terrorism and proliferation, but
think that military instruments are less effective. They believe that the Administration is
often impulsive in confronting current dangers. They strongly object to President Bush’s
doctrine of “pre-emptive” or “preventive” action, and almost uniformly oppose using
NATO assets in the name of such a doctrine. The Administration’s strong support for the
Sharon government in Israel in the view of some Europeans, have unduly antagonized the
Islamic world, and are political abrasions undermining allied solidarity. Some European
officials talk of following the French practice of developing “hedging strategies,” in the
event that U.S. policies in the Middle East, viewed by the Europeans as overly aggressive,
should fail. Building an EU force to handle crisis management, or developing better
relations with Iran, are examples of such strategies.