- The Washington Times - Friday, January 10, 2003

BRUSSELS, Belgium, Jan. 10 (UPI) — The idea of soldiers marching in European Union uniforms might send shivers down the spines of Euroskeptics, seem quaint to American military chiefs, and appear unworkable to all those acquainted with the EU's cumbersome decision-making procedures, but in 2003, this long-talked-about dream is set to become a reality.

On Jan. 1, the EU took control of the international community's police mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina. For the next three years, 500 police officers from the EU's 15 member states — as well as 18 other countries — will be responsible for bringing law and order to the war-torn former Yugoslav republic in the Union's first peacekeeping operation.

In the spring, the EU is expected to take over NATO's Amber Fox operation in Macedonia, following a landmark deal between the two bodies last month that gives the Union access to the Alliance's resources.

Later in the year, the Brussels-based organization is likely to assume the more ambitious task of keeping the peace in Bosnia.

But the bloc's military ambitions do not just begin and end in the Balkans.

In November, the EU and NATO plan to hold their first joint military exercise, and by December the Union is supposed to have a 60,000-strong rapid reaction force ready to carry out peacekeeping — and vaguely defined "peace-making" — operations anywhere in the world.

Daniel Keohane, a defense analyst at the London-based pro-EU Center for European Reform, says 2003 will be a crucial year for the EU's nascent security and defense policy.

"After years of talk, the EU will actually be doing something," he says.

The policing operation in Bosnia is unlikely to stretch the EU and its partners. But Keohane says the EU's first military foray in Macedonia will be closely watched by both the Union's supporters and detractors.

"The European Union will want to make sure it goes well because if anything does go wrong, it might raise a lot of uncertainty about the EU's potential as a military actor," he says.

It is fitting the bloc's first military activities should be in the Balkans: The EU's incapacity to keep the former Yugoslav republic's warring factions apart contributed to its drawing up a defense policy in 1999.

At present, this strategy restricts the EU to crisis management and peacekeeping operations. But many European politicians would like the EU to have more ambitious goals, befitting an organization that expects to become the world's most powerful economic bloc.

The European Convention, a body set up last year to design a new institutional architecture for the EU, has proposed introducing a solidarity clause — modeled on NATO's Article Five — in which an attack on one EU member state is deemed an attack on all.

The convention is also likely to recommend setting up a European armaments agency to allow EU states to pool the costs of upgrading their outdated military hardware.

At present, the Union's 15 members spend only 40 percent the amount the United States does on defense, and only two countries — France and Britain — are capable of conducting sustained military operations overseas.

Despite pledges to increase expenditure in a handful of European countries, the military gulf between the EU and the United States is only set to widen given the Bush administration's decision to up defense spending by $80 billion — a sum greater than the annual arms budget of Britian and France.

The European peacekeepers carrying out their duties in the Balkans will be on loan from national armies and will fly the flag of both their homelands and the Brussels-based club.

But Antonio Missiroli, a research fellow at the EU Institute for Security Studies in Paris, believes that in the medium- to long-term the European Union will have to consider setting up its own standing army.

"An EU army has become a four-letter word, but if the union wants to be effective on the ground, its armies have to integrate and learn to be inter-operational."

The EU is still a very long way from becoming the world's other military superpower. However, 2003 will decide whether it is capable of acting forcefully on the international stage or is destined to remain an economic giant but a political dwarf.

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