Stewart Penney/WASHINGTON DC

Despite NATO's 50th anniversary summit being overshadowed by the continuing conflict in Yugoslavia, political leaders found time to approve the alliance's new strategic concept.

Although NATO's military arm has been working towards the revised strategic concept since the early 1990s, governments have been slower to approve the change. The new concept outlines the alliance's role following the end of the Cold War and underwrites the changes to the military structure that have been implemented, such as a revised command chain and the boosting of rapid-reaction forces.

NATO says it faces "complex new risks" which include "oppression, ethnic conflict, economic stress, the collapse of political order and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction".

Its new strategic concept commits it for the first time to view alliance security in a "global concept" that will account for factors that are outside the geographical area covered by the 19 members, such as terrorism, sabotage, disruption in the supply of vital resources and organised crime.

The spread of weapons of mass destruction and the necessary delivery systems means that NATO believes it must improve its defences against such risks, including "work on missile defences".

US President Bill Clinton says the alliance is "adopting very important changes to make NATO operations more relevant and more effective in meeting the new challenges of the 21st century".

Proceedings in Washington opened on 23 April, with NATO leaders declaring a commitment to unity to "succeed" in the Yugoslavian conflict and to step up the air attacks.

Responding to criticism that NATO's operation was too slow, Clinton notes that the air war during the 1991 Gulf conflict lasted 44 days before ground forces launched their assault. "And the land was flatter, the targets were clearer, the weather was better."

Source: Flight International