NATO mulls Mideast military academy
By ASSOCIATED PRESS, BRUSSELS, The Jerusalem Post, June 7, 2006
NATO defense ministers this week will discuss proposals for the creation of an elite military academy in the Middle East to train officers from Israel and some Arab nations as part of a drive to improve ties with the region, diplomats said Tuesday.
Jordan has offered to host the training center, which would be open to officers from the seven nations in NATO’s decade-old Mediterranean outreach program – Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Israel and Jordan, said senior NATO diplomats speaking on condition of anonymity.
It could also be offered to Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates and other countries that sign up to a more recent NATO program for the Gulf region.
Defense ministers from the 26 allied nations will have a first chance to discuss the proposal at their meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Thursday.
Diplomats hope the plan can be developed in time for approval at a NATO summit scheduled for November in Latvia. They spoke on condition of anonymity in line with their countries’ usual practice ahead of NATO ministerial meetings and because the issue is sensitive while discussions are ongoing.
The idea is supported by Britain and the United States, but some allies have doubts over the impact and cost.
They would prefer to send NATO experts to existing military academies in the region, or offer more places at NATO’s existing officer schools in Germany and Italy, rather than building a permanent facility in the Middle East.
« We are at the very early stages of considering whether there is something that NATO could usefully do, » said John P. Colston, NATO’s assistant secretary general for defense policy and planning. « There are no decisions on that at the moment. » NATO has been pushing recently to strengthen its « Mediterranean dialogue » with North African and Middle Eastern countries to improve military and political cooperation in areas such as counterterrorism, peacekeeping and regional stability. In February, NATO defense ministers held a first meeting with their counterparts from the seven nations, and the alliance’s decision-making North Atlantic Council met in Morocco in April with envoys from the Mediterranean countries.
NATO officials see training of senior officers as a key area where they can improve links with the North African and Middle Eastern nations, increasingly their forces’ ability to work with the alliance in peacekeeping and other operations.
« Education and training appear to be areas where our partners have expressed interest and where NATO possesses a unique ability to add value, » NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in a speech last week in Paris. « The idea of a NATO training initiative has received widespread support. » NATO already runs a training college outside Baghdad for Iraqi officers – a mission the United States would like to see expanded.
Diplomats said the Middle East training plan would build on the experience of NATO’s work helping nations from the former Soviet bloc modernize their military. However, unlike NATO’s « partnership for peace » program developed with former Warsaw Pact nations, the Mediterranean initiative would not hold out the prospect of eventual NATO membership.