WASHINGTON The U.S. State Department official in charge of NATO policy said on Friday he was intrigued by a new proposal to change the way the alliance's missions are funded to spread the costs among its members.
"It's not crazy," Kurt Volker, the principal deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, told Reuters in an interview.
Volker, a career U.S. diplomat, has been nominated to be the new U.S. ambassador to the Brussels-based North Atlantic Treaty Organization but must first be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
A group of former officers of the western security alliance last month proposed a radical overhaul of NATO, amid tensions between the United States and some allies over the reluctance of some members to send troops to Afghanistan or to allow those there to engage in combat.
But the ex-NATO brass' focus went beyond the question of differing levels of troop deployments.
The report's authors, who included former chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of staff John Shalikashvili, suggested all members of the alliance could help fund operations, rather than just those who contribute their own troops or equipment.
"I like the idea. ... There is something to the idea of sharing the burden more equitably, and I think that is something we need to look at," Volker said.
NATO's current practice, called "costs lie where they fall," makes countries pay their own costs when they contribute to a mission such as Afghanistan, he said. The problem is that the same countries who send troops also foot the bill.
While cost-sharing was worth exploring, Volker also saw some difficulties. It could create "double taxation," in which countries would end up financing part of their own troop deployments as well as chipping in to a common NATO fund.
"To make that proposal work, you'd have to have a good reimbursement scheme for countries that are contributors," Volker said. This in turn might create a bit of "sticker shock" when it came time to reimburse the United States, he added.
Speaking about other issues facing the alliance, Volker was optimistic that as early as NATO's April summit in Bucharest, the alliance could issue an invitation to three Balkan countries -- Croatia, Albania and Macedonia -- to join.
"We'd like to see them get an invitation, but it's going to take a consensus of NATO that they have now made the grade," he said. All three have done much work in terms of economic and political reforms to prepare for membership, he said.
A NATO enlargement that does include all three could be seen in the context of helping the Balkan region move out of the troubled period of the 1990s, stabilizing and "really coming into its own," Volker said.
The United States also hoped the Bucharest summit would produce a "positive signal" to the former republics of Ukraine and Georgia, Volker said. But he said this did not necessarily have to mean they will be offered a spot in NATO's "Membership Action Plan," a preliminary phase.
"We welcome their aspirations, we want to help them. Whether that results in a Membership Action Plan at the summit, or whether that's something that follows on at a later point in time, we've got to see," he said.
Volker expected Serbia's Kosovo province, which has a 90 percent Albanian majority, to declare independence soon, and believed a "substantial number of countries" would recognize the new state.
"It'll be pretty stable. I'm not expecting the cataclysm that could happen. I think most people want it to be peaceful," he said.