Nine nations pledge to boost defence budgets at Prague summit as alliance invites seven more countries to join

A new NATO emerged from the alliance's two-day summit in Prague on 21-22 November, with members pledging larger defence budgets and making commitments to acquire specific capabilities. Seven countries were invited to join the alliance and an unexpected move from Turkey could help break the deadlock in NATO/European Union relations.

The Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Italy, Norway, Poland, Portugal, the UK and USA said they had raised or plan to raise defence budgets, while Germany, Norway and Spain committed to arranging procurement of airlift, in-flight refuelling and sealift capabilities.

Germany will organise the lease of 16 aircraft, at least two of which will be Antonov-designed. The rest will probably be Boeing C-17s. These will be replaced when the Airbus Military A400M becomes operational. Spain will organise a 17-tanker aircraft pool, probably a mix of Airbus and Boeing platforms, while Norway will organise sealift.

Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia received formal invitations to join NATO by May 2004.

"The accession of these new members will strengthen security in the Euro-Atlantic area," said the 19 NATO heads of state and government. Albania, Croatia and Macedonia "remain under consideration for future membership".

NATO agreed to an unexpected proposal from Turkey to organise a joint military exercise next year, which could improve the relations between the alliance and the EU.

"We're making progress here," said a senior NATO official referring to the deadlock in the "Berlin-Plus" talks. The EU/NATO Berlin-Plus discussions cover the use of NATO assets by the EU Rapid Reaction Force in cases where NATO has decided not to act.

Turkey, a NATO but not EU member, objects to having no say in the decision-making when NATO assets are used by the EU and Ankara had said this problem needed to be solved before joint exercises could be organised.

Source: Flight International