- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 21, 2000

BRUSSELS The European Union went into the defense business yesterday, pledging tens of thousands of troops and hundreds of warplanes and ships to a new European rapid-reaction force that is still more a dream than reality.

The 15-nation EU is seeking to give itself military clout to back up its economic and political power and to step out of the shadow of the United States, which dominates Europe's principal defense organization NATO.

Whether they are called European or NATO, however, defense and foreign ministers who met here were talking about the same forces. No new units were created, and, for the moment, no appreciable amount of new money will be spent. Many of the troops designated for the EU are also pledged to NATO.

The force was being assembled a year after the 15 EU leaders decided in Helsinki to create a corps of 60,000 troops capable by 2003 of deploying within 60 days and remaining on the ground for up to a year.

In practical terms, this means creating a pool of forces of 100,000-120,000 to give commanders a choice of capabilities for a wide variety of missions. Taking into account a rotation of troops every six months, that means a pool of 200,000-250,000 troops for a yearlong mission.

"We are now entering into a major commitment in the European Union," said Defense Minister Alain Richard of France, which holds the EU presidency.

Mr. Richard said about 100,000 troops, 400 combat aircraft and 100 ships were pledged to the EU on Monday. The next step is to transform this paper army into a real, deployable force capable of fulfilling the limited missions set out for it humanitarian, peacekeeping and peacemaking duties.

Despite meeting its goal in terms of numbers, large gaps remained in air and sea transport, precision-guided weapons, all-weather flying capability, satellite intelligence, communications, and command and control systems.

The priority now, Javier Solana, the EU's chief of foreign and security policy, said, is to close the gaps. He said the EU has much of what it needs and is determined to come up with the rest before the 2003 deadline.

"I would hope we would have some limited initial capability next year," said Geoff Hoon, Britain's defense minister.

Mr. Hoon said: "What is being done is going to make NATO stronger, not weaker."

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer agreed.

"We need a strong European pillar [in NATO]," he said. "This is part of the European integration process." He added there is no longer a division between the civilian and military aspects of crisis management.

EU forces will not be involved in territorial defense, which is essentially NATO's job. The plan is for them to be used in humanitarian, peacekeeping and peacemaking roles when NATO as a whole or the United States declines a role.

"The EU is determined that it should play a more complete role in tackling crises," said Mr. Solana, calling Monday's pledging session "a serious first step."

The United States has cautiously backed the EU's military efforts, after some initial hesitation, calculating that anything improving European defense is good for NATO. Washington wants to make sure that NATO is still the defense arm of first choice and that European efforts don't lead to unnecessary duplication.

Still, some people both in the United States and Europe fear the EU force is the first step down the road to disintegration of the 19-nation NATO.

Lord George Robertson, the NATO secretary-general, was to dine with EU ministers Monday evening to discuss the alliance's concerns.

"There is no will in Europe to use its collective capabilities against NATO," said Mr. Richard of France.

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