NATO countries agreed yesterday to step up cooperation in the production and procurement of nonnuclear defense equipment. Alliance officials called the move a landmark decision in NATO's long-running but largely unsuccessful battle to avoid waste and duplication in weapons development.
Improved allied cooperation in armaments production also represents a crucial element in the West's drive to improve its conventional forces, the NATO alliance officials said.
The plan, approved by NATO foreign ministers at their annual year-end meeting here, commits national defense chiefs to work together more closely in developing conventional defense equipment -- from the research-and-development stage to production and testing.
United States officials said that Secretary of State George Shultz had heartily endorsed the statement on the agreement.
``Every effort should be made to harmonize requirements and to explore the prospects for meeting them collaboratively,'' the statement said.
It went on to add that ``efforts to increase cooperation in research and technology, in particular to exploit emerging technologies, should be stepped up in order to achieve a more cost-effective use of resources of the countries of the alliance and facilitate the establishment of cooperative projects.''
Until now, hopes of greater allied cooperation in weapons production and development have been frustrated by ``good-old- fashioned nationalism,'' as one NATO official put it. ``Contracts have taken precedence over the common defense.''
A recent US congressional report, shows that the Warsaw Pact countries last year outproduced the NATO allliance in tanks, armored vehicles, attack helicopters, submarines, and tactical aircraft by margins of up to three-to-one.
US General Bernard Rogers, NATO's military commander in Europe says, ``We have been spending more on conventional forces than the Warsaw Pact and producing less.
``Such lack of coordination and standardization wastes millions of dollars each year in duplicated efforts and non-productive competition within the alliance,'' General Rogers says.
``If we are not to unilaterally disarm ourselves because we cannot afford modern weapons, we must not continue to dissipate our efforts as we are now doing,'' Rogers says.