Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, traveling to France this week, will press NATO countries to reduce political interference in the alliance's operations, an issue that U.S. officials contend has hampered NATO efforts in Kosovo and Iraq.
In some cases, the political leadership of individual NATO countries have ordered their officers and soldiers, assigned to NATO units and headquarters, not to take part in operations carried out by NATO as a whole.
Rumsfeld will make his case to eliminate these "national caveats" on the use of alliance forces at a NATO defense minister's meeting in Nice, a senior U.S. defense official said Monday, discussing the upcoming conference only on the condition of anonymity.
Five NATO members have told their military personnel assigned to NATO staff positions to either not go to Iraq or not take part in any work involving the NATO mission in Iraq, set up to assist in training Iraqi security forces, the official said. The official did not identify the countries, but Germany, France, Belgium, Greece and Spain, who have previously announced they will not take part in the mission.
NATO has about 80 soldiers in Baghdad for the mission, a number that is expected to grow to 300 or more. Several members have offered soldiers at the meeting of foreign ministers, including Poland, Hungary and the Netherlands. Other countries have offered equipment or money, or to run training programs outside of Iraq.
Another example of national interference in NATO, according to the official: in March, some countries did not allow their troops, serving as NATO peacekeepers in Kosovo, to move into certain areas to help in riot control. The violence, the worst since the end of the 1998-99 war, came as mobs of ethnic Albanians targeted Serbs and other minorities in a two-day rampage in mid-March, triggered by the deaths of two children allegedly chased into a river by Serbs.
The violence left 19 people dead and 900 injured, and 4,000 people, mostly Serbs, were displaced, and at least 600 homes and Orthodox Christian churches were burned.
Some 18,000 NATO-led peacekeepers are in the province working alongside some 10,000 U.N. and local police officers.
The senior defense official said some fixes had already been implemented should violence flare up again in Kosovo.
In Nice, Rumsfeld and his foreign counterparts will also discuss the alliance's efforts in Afghanistan, where 8,300 NATO troops are taking part in peacekeeping and reconstruction there. France is to hand over leadership of the force to Turkey this month.
The defense secretary will also meet with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, who will be in Nice for parallel Russia-NATO meetings.
It remains unclear whether Rumsfeld will also travel to Germany later in the week for the annual European security conference in Munich.