The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has decided to launch a dialogue on security in the Mediterranean area with several non-member states, including Israel, in order to cope with the threat of Islamic fundamentalism.
At a meeting of 16 NATO ambassadors in Brussels earlier this month, the organization concluded that more attention should be paid to the instability of areas such as Northern Africa and the Middle East, sources said.
In a recent interview with a Belgian newspaper, NATO Secretary-General Willy Claes said Islamic fundamentalism had emerged as perhaps the single gravest threat to the alliance and Western security since the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe.
For years, NATO, headquartered in Brussels, focused on the threat of the former Soviet Union. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall, the alliance has tried to incorporate the new Eastern European democracies.
According to a NATO statement, the objective of the new dialogue with the non- member states — Tunisia, Morocco, Mauritania, Egypt and Israel — is “to contribute to security and stability in the whole Mediterranean basin, to work for a better mutual understanding and to dispel any misunderstanding that might make the alliance’s intentions appear as a threat”.
These non-member nations will present their security problems and NATO will consider whether they should be helped, said a NATO diplomatic source.
This does not mean that NATO will establish a program of military cooperation with these countries that is comparable to the program NATO has launched with other non-member countries, the source also said.
At first, the dialogue between NATO and the five countries will be limited to contacts between diplomatic representatives in Brussels.
The decision to establish such a dialogue on security was initiated by Spain and supported by Italy and France. Northern European NATO members were not as supportive.
NATO was founded in 1949 by Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Subsequently, Greece, Turkey, Germany and Spain joined the alliance, bringing the total to 16 member nations.