- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Four European countries that staunchly opposed the war in Iraq yesterday announced plans to create the core of a new European Union army separate from NATO, a move that drew immediate fire from the United States and Britain.
Meeting in Brussels, the leaders of France, Germany, Luxembourg and host Belgium agreed to create the "nucleus" of a rapid-reaction force, construct a new military headquarters to oversee the joint command, and boost cooperation on defense spending, training and procurement in an effort to reduce European reliance on U.S. and NATO military might.
Critics said the four-nation summit was likely to prove a distraction from Europe's real military deficiencies, while only aggravating the ill will with the Bush administration generated by the Iraq conflict.
German defense spending is low and declining, while Luxembourg and Belgium will be able to make only tiny contributions to the proposed force.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, testifying yesterday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, pointedly noted that only four of the European Union's 15 members attended the summit.
The summit leaders "created some sort of a plan to develop some sort of a headquarters," Mr. Powell said.
"What we need is not more headquarters. What we need is more capability and fleshing out of the structure and the forces that are already there."
Britain, by far the EU's strongest military power, also took a dim view of the Brussels get-together, to which Prime Minister Tony Blair was not invited.
British Defense Minister Geoff Hoon, on a visit to EU candidate Hungary yesterday, told reporters there must be "consistency about the harmony of EU and NATO defense, which must be a result of a consensus between all of the members and the new members of the EU."
French President Jacques Chirac, a harsh critic of the U.S.-led war in Iraq and a prime mover behind the summit, denied charges by Mr. Blair that the defense plan was designed to weaken NATO or transform the European Union into a military rival to the United States.
Mr. Chirac said the summit was designed to be a catalyst to beef up EU military capabilities.
"With a strong European defense, we contribute to a strong NATO," Mr. Chirac said in Brussels. "This is in the best interest of Europe. It's also clearly in the interest of the Atlantic alliance."
The summit action plan is to be presented to the other 11 EU nations at a meeting of foreign ministers in Athens this weekend.
Washington has been pressing its European NATO partners to boost their defense spending and has supported, with some reservations, EU plans to create a separate 60,000-strong rapid-reaction force that would engage in regional missions where NATO is not involved.
The U.S. defense budget of $350 billion last year was nearly twice the total military spending of the other 18 members of NATO.
But the relative weakness of the four countries in Brussels yesterday and the absence of Britain, Spain, Italy and other EU powers made the summit leaders the target of heavy criticism yesterday.
"This is an alliance of third-rate military powers who cannot possibly carry out the plans they're talking about," said Nile Gardiner, a fellow in Anglo-American security policy at the Heritage Foundation.
"It's a reflection of the sheer arrogance of Paris and Berlin, who still haven't gotten the message that they no longer run Europe or the EU," Mr. Gardiner said.
The German daily Die Welt slammed Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder for attending the Brussels summit, saying the idea would have not attracted any attention if he had stayed home.
"The number of soldiers Luxembourg can offer is in the region of a three-digit figure," the newspaper said, "and Belgium's power of deterrence lies mainly in the calorie content of its heavy chocolates."

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