Washington spells out fears over European military force

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Series Details Vol 7, No.11, 15.3.01, p18
Publication Date 15/03/2001
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Date: 15/03/01

By Simon Taylor

The US response has been wary ever since UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac gave birth to the idea of an EU military force at St Malo in 1998.

Despite Washington's worries, however, the risks associated with the Union having the capability to rival NATO or US power are exaggerated. The question facing the EU's fledgling force is not whether it will consign NATO to the dustbin of history but how long it will be before its military ambitions become reality.

Three months after the landmark St Malo summit the NATO air campaign against Serbian forces in Kosovo exposed the EU's shortcomings.

The US flew only half of all combat missions, but 80% of the strike missions and 90% of the smart weapons used were launched by US aircraft. France carried out half of the missions by European fighter aircraft while the UK, despite its reputation for military credibility, played a smaller than expected role because of its strict rules of engagement.

The challenges for the EU's security and defence goals were clear. As Blair said in a speech in March 1999, "European defence is not about new institutional fixes. It is about new capabilities, military and diplomatic."

Not surprisingly, French Defence Minister Alain Richard claimed huge progress in closing the gaps under Paris' presidency of the EU. At the capabilities conference in November, he announced that the Union would meet its targets for a 60,000-strong force, which should be operational by 2003.

But the problems of transport and intelligence hardware essential to the success of even the most modest operations were not solved. EU governments will only start to agree ways to make up these gaps this autumn.

The outgoing US ambassador to the EU, Richard Morningstar, has spelt out Washington's concerns about the risks for global security if member states fail to finance the hardware needed.

"If in the end this new rapid reaction corps exists only on paper and is never really deployable," he has said, "then this exercise becomes not only futile, but dangerous - because it could lead to a situation where on both sides we mismanage the political dynamic by creating the impression that the EU wants to decouple its security and defence interests from NATO."

This, Morningstar warned, would play into the hands of those who would like the US to pull out of Europe, leaving Europe to defend itself without the necessary capabilities.

President George W. Bush's campaign trail rhetoric about pulling US troops out of the Balkans seems to have quieted, however. Secretary of State Colin Powell reinforced US commitment to the region during his visit to Brussels last month.

But there are problems on the horizon. As the EU's new military identity approaches reality, critical policy differences have emerged among EU states themselves and, crucially, between transatlantic allies.

The French are adamant that the RRF should be able to take on crisis-management duties without NATO having a veto. But most of its EU partners, led by the UK, disagree with Paris' insistence that the operational planning should be carried out independently of NATO's US-dominated military staff at its headquarters in Mons, Belgium.

Meanwhile, NATO member and EU aspirant Turkey is opposed to giving the Union automatic access to the alliance's hardware unless it is granted full decision-making rights when the EU wants to launch military missions.

Given the concern expressed by senior US figures, who have warned that the rapid reaction force could be a dagger pointed at the alliance's heart, it seems fair to assume that continuing EU reliance on NATO assets suits the new administration.

The message from the other side of the Atlantic is unmistakeable: the Union's military force should learn to walk before it tries to run.

Article forms part of a survey on EU-US relations.

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