Lack of NATO assets ‘highly regrettable’ says EU military chief

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Series Details Vol.7, No.42, 15.11.01, p6
Publication Date 15/11/2001
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Date: 15/11/01

By Dennis Abbott

The head of the EU military staff has said it is "highly regrettable" that no firm agreement has been reached on giving the Union's nascent rapid reaction force access to NATO assets. Lieutenant General Rainer Schuwirth warned that unless the new force was able to deliver it would "run into a deep credibility gap" when it becomes operational in 2003. "We attach the greatest importance to interoperability with NATO," he added.

The three-star German general was speaking ahead of a crucial 'capabilities' conference in Brussels next week (19-20 November) when defence ministers from the 15 member states, candidate countries and other European NATO states will attempt to address shortfalls in the EU force's assets. "Quantitatively, there is no problem," said Schuwirth. So far the member states have pledged more than 100,000 soldiers, 400 aircraft and 100 ships for the force, which will carry out humanitarian and peace-enforcement missions - the so-called Petersberg tasks.

It will not be a standing 'Euro Army', but rather a corps-strength force of between 50,000-60,000, capable of being deployed within 60 days and "drawing on voluntary contributions on a case-by-case basis". But Schuwirth, addressing a conference organised by military NGO Euromil, conceded that qualitative shortfalls remain - in strategic deployability, intelligence gathering, force protection and command and control. These were the same shortfalls that NATO faced in the past, he added.

The new Airbus 400M military transport aircraft - designed to tackle the gap in strategic lift exposed in the Kosovo war - is not due to come into service before 2007. Nine countries had been due to announce firm orders for the €90-million aircraft this week with Germany signing up for 73 jets, France (50), the UK (25), Spain (27), Italy (16), Turkey (10), Belgium (7), Portugal (3) and Luxembourg (1).

But an Airbus spokesman said the contract deadline had now been put back until the end of the year "due to delays in the approval process" in Germany, France and Italy. Germany is negotiating with the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company, which owns 80 of Airbus, for a price reduction.

Meanwhile, Rome remains divided over whether to stay a partner in the €200-billion project. Defence Minister Antonio Martino says the A400M is "too expensive", however Foreign Minister Renato Ruggiero is urging Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi not to walk away from the deal. One defence analyst put the chances of Italy sticking with the A400M at "no more than 50-50".

The Airbus spokesman said he was confident that this week's crash of an A300 American Airlines passenger plane in New York would have no bearing on the A400M project. "They're totally different planes," he added. Some countries have attempted to address the shortfall in strategic lift planes by taking interim measures. The UK's Royal Air Force, for instance, has leased four C-17 Globemaster cargo aircraft made by Boeing.

The head of the EU military staff, Lieutenant General Rainer Schuwirth, has said it is 'highly regrettable' that no firm agreement has been reached on giving the Union's nascent rapid reaction force access to NATO assets.

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