EU looks for an alternative force to NATO

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NICOSIA, Cyprus — With 2 million men and women under arms, the European Union is seeking ways to make them an instrument of the growing demand for a military force independent of the United States.

However, the views and objectives of the 25 EU members vary and have led to disputed proposals, contributing to the difficulty plaguing the EU’s search for one joint voice on the global scene.

The most strident EU states seek to end its military dependence on NATO, an alliance that emerged victorious from the Cold War but is increasingly seen in Europe as a tool of Washington’s foreign policy.

Such demands have led to a clash of ideas and what some European press describe as a “perilous rivalry,” harming military effectiveness.

All proposals for a united and independent European military force have run into problems of cost and opposition from NATO’s Central and East European members, who prefer the pact’s tested umbrella, combined with U.S. involvement.

Money ‘not coming’

“The money is simply not coming,” said Javier Solana, EU foreign policy chief, referring to the struggle for funds required by the expansion of research and weapons, often duplicating those of NATO.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel maintains that NATO “should remain the center of political discussion on the implications of the crises and various threats.” But the latest proposal for a strong European army has come from the Social Democrats, partners in Mrs. Merkel’s “grand coalition” since last year’s parliamentary elections.

In an unprecedented statement from a German political party, Kurt Beck, leader of the Social Democrats, has suggested that Europe become “a global peace power” with its own military policy.

While conceding Europe’s limited means and political clout to solve world crises, Mr. Beck said the proposed independent European force should establish “a partnership based on equality” with the United States, rather than follow U.S. decisions.

This echoed an earlier statement by Gunter Verheugen, the EU’s commissioner for industry, that a separate Continental defense system “is indispensable to our independence and political sovereignty.”

Almost a U.S. ‘tool’

Commenting on the proposal, Paul Dunay of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in Sweden said: “The problem is not with NATO as such, but with how the alliance has become almost a tool of the United States.”

One of the first reactions was from Poland’s arch-conservative President Lech Kaczynski, who, while agreeing with the concept of a European army of 100,000, stressed that such an army should be firmly linked to NATO. For some time, the alliance has advocated the need for Europe’s greater role in security and defense.

Mr. Kaczynski’s view is shared by several governments in the former Soviet bloc and its dissolved Warsaw Pact, which think that NATO’s long-established prestige and U.S. involvement offer a better security guarantee than an untested joint European army.

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