- The Washington Times - Monday, November 27, 2000

LONDON Britain's most senior army officer, Gen. Sir Charles Guthrie, has warned of the "risk" that dangerous conflicts in Europe could become wars unless the United States and NATO have links with a new European army.
The comments by the chief of the Defense Staff undermine Prime Minister Tony Blair's claim that the military wholeheartedly supports the European Rapid Reaction Force, which was designed for operations in which the United States and NATO choose not to become involved.
Gen. Guthrie also said it would be "easier" to bolster European defense within NATO than to create a separate European force.
His private comments to members of Parliament 12 days ago echo private concerns among senior U.S. officers that Europe will be a more dangerous place unless as promised by Mr. Blair NATO is included in the formation of the force from the outset.
Gen. Guthrie was asked by Conservative Party legislator Julian Lewis whether there was a danger of conflicts in Europe escalating into full-scale war if there was not American involvement from the outset.
"If it trickled forward, there could be a risk of that," he replied, although he said he would expect the United States to be involved "quite quickly" if a crisis were escalating.
Gen. Guthrie's briefing in the House of Commons was supposed to remain confidential, but Mr. Lewis said Saturday he was breaking his silence because of the general's public insistence last week that the new policy of European defense cooperation would "make NATO stronger, not weaker."
Grumbling about the new rapid reaction force also can be heard within the ranks of Britain's armed forces, several of whose members agreed to be interviewed on the grounds of confidentiality.
"This is a wild move, and I would suggest that little military thought has been given to it," said a flight lieutenant in the Royal Air Force. "Are we going to be allocated an increased budget to fund training and exercises for the new Euro-army? I doubt it."
A senior army officer working at the Ministry of Defense welcomed greater European military cooperation, but only within NATO.
"If we fall in with the French and Germans, we could ruin our relationship with the United States. They supported us during the Falklands, the Gulf and Kosovo. They have the strategic airlift that we don't," the officer said.
"We have spent years developing our amphibious doctrine with the U.S. The Germans do not have any amphibious troops and no amphibious ships."
The commanding officer of a front-line infantry battalion said: "I am more than happy to work with European soldiers, but their politicians are a different matter. The question remains as to whether they have the guts to see this through and rise above the political pressures in their own countries.
"The whole thing could start to fragment before the first tank has rolled, the first paratrooper has dropped or the first barrage has been fired. That would be a complete waste of time."

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