NATO to Address Gap in Military Might By PAUL AMES Associated Press Writer BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP)--NATO officials on both sides of the Atlantic are concerned about the growing gap between U.S. military might and outdated, underfunded European forces, saying it could undermine future alliance missions. The aim is to break away from NATO's role of defending Europe against a now nonexistent Soviet threat and to give the alliance the means to project power to far-flung regions harboring terrorists that threaten allied nations. The topic is likely to be high on the agenda Thursday and Friday at a meeting of NATO defense ministers. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is expected to press his European counterparts to spend more to modernize their forces, and several European allies have already voiced support for the plans. They also want to give urgent attention to tackling potential threats from extremists seeking to obtain atomic, chemical or biological weapons. ``The alliance should agree ... to an effective NATO role against the new threats presented by international terrorism and weapons of mass destruction,'' British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Spanish counterpart Jose Maria Aznar wrote to NATO ahead of the meeting. Thursday will also see the first ministerial meeting of the new NATO-Russia council launched last week at a summit outside Rome. The NATO ministers want to work out a series of cooperation projects on counterterrorism and other issues with their Russian counterpart, Sergei Ivanov. Although soldiers from many European nations are now fighting alongside American troops in Afghanistan, officials are increasingly worried that NATO risks being undermined by the widening gap between the U.S. military and European forces. They hope this meeting will intensify efforts to halt that trend ahead of a NATO summit this fall where alliance leaders could agree on a package of military reforms. NATO experts have indicated a range of priority areas where European militaries need to urgently fill shortfalls. They include: large transport planes to deploy troops and equipment quickly to distant combat zones, countermeasures against mass destruction weapons, secure communications and precision munitions. NATO officials are also looking at how smaller allies can better contribute to the fight against terrorism through greater military specialization or pooling of resources. They point to the role played by Norwegian mountain troops fighting in Afghanistan and Czech units specialized in defending against chemical or germ warfare as examples of how smaller allies can develop useful niche roles. The defense ministers are also set to consider changes to NATO's high command structure, which is currently divided between the European headquarters based near Mons in southern Belgium and the Atlantic command in Norfolk, Va. AP-NY-06-06-02 0231EDT Copyright 2002, The Associated Press. The information contained in the AP Online news report may not be published, broadcast or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.