MUNICH, Germany – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (search) on Saturday came out against a German proposal that would create a trans-Atlantic rival to NATO to coordinate and develop policy among alliance nations.
Rumsfeld described the 26-country alliance, created in 1949 to confront the Soviet Union's military strength in the Cold War, as still energetic and vital.
He also said the U.S.-European alliance can withstand its current differences, caused chiefly by opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq. In urging unified efforts to defeat terrorism and deter weapons proliferation, Rumsfeld took a conciliatory note toward America's allies in Europe and even made light of his "old Europe" characterization of nations such as France and Germany that opposed U.S. policy in Iraq.
"That was old Rumsfeld," he said, drawing laughs from officials at a security conference. "Our collective security depends on our cooperation and mutual respect and understanding."
Germany's defense minister proposed more direct coordination between the European Union and the United States. NATO (search) "is no longer the primary venue where trans-Atlantic partners discuss and coordinate strategies," said Peter Struck, reading a speech on behalf of German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who was ill.
Struck also recommended appointing a commission to study the idea.
But Rumsfeld said: "NATO has a great deal of energy and vitality. I believe they are undertaking the kinds of reforms to bring the institution into the 21st century. The place to discuss trans-Atlantic issues clearly is NATO."
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer (search), citing missions in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq, said the alliance "has seen more change and transformation over the past three or four years than in the many decades before. Let's not say NATO is ill or terminally ill ... this alliance is very alive."
Rumsfeld advocated further cooperative efforts to counter the spread of weapons of mass destruction (search) and terrorism.
"Our Atlantic alliance relationship has navigated through some choppy seas over the years. But we have always been able to resolve the toughest issues," he said. "That is because there is so much to unite us: common values, shared histories, and an abiding faith in democracy."
The Pentagon chief said coordination of legal, diplomatic and intelligence efforts was crucial.
"By now it must be clear that one nation cannot defeat the extremists alone," he said.
"It will take the cooperation of many nations to stop the proliferation of dangerous weapons ... and it surely takes a community of nations to gather intelligence about extremist networks, to break up financial support lines, or to apprehend suspected terrorists," Rumsfeld said.
He added, "The military can only be part of the solution and it is always the last resort."
The secretary singled out France and Germany for praise for their arrests of suspected Islamic extremists last month.
Rumsfeld's trip to Germany followed stops to France and Iraq this past week. At a conference of NATO defense ministers in France, he advocated greater alliance participation in Afghanistan and Iraq.
He also said he believed that U.S. and European policy concerning Iran's nuclear ambitions were in accord. "There is not much daylight between the approach of the United States and the Europeans," Rumsfeld said.
The speech at the gathering of leading security officials was a late addition to Rumsfeld's agenda and came after German prosecutors decided not to investigate Rumsfeld on war crimes allegations involving torture of detainees at the Abu Ghraib (search) prison in Iraq.