Saturday, November 18, 2006

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.

The feeling reflects East European concerns about what these countries perceive to be the increasingly nationalist policies of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.

Poland in particular fears an economic partnership between Russia and Germany, both its traditional foes.

Britain: No — France: Yes

Britain has also been an outspoken opponent of a separate EU military command, concerned that it would undermine NATO, while France argues in favor of a strong and independent European army. This clash of ideas between Europe’s two major countries has been a long-standing problem for NATO.

France, a founding member of the alliance, withdrew its troops from NATO command in the mid-1960s while remaining in its political wing. Some European analysts feel that, since then, France has tried to drive a wedge between the U.S.-led NATO command and its European members.

According to an assessment by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, “there has always been a tendency by France to separate the EU’s defense policy from NATO.”

On paper, NATO’s “Response Force” of some 7,000 troops from its 26 member nations is expected to be able to deploy in areas requiring intervention within five days. The European Union so far has been more ambitious, proposing a “Rapid Reaction Force” of 60,000 troops.

Both intervention forces have suffered from the reluctance of governments to commit funds and soldiers for required rotation periods.

Costly duplication

Critics of intricate military preparations point out the expensive duplication of personnel and equipment. The most glaring example is the fact that of NATO’S 26 members, 19 are also in the European Union, and both their intervention-force headquarters are in Brussels, a short distance from each other.

The two forces have been known to compete with each other in the world’s trouble spots. The EU’s military planning, still in an embryonic stage, is handled at five area headquarters, and the combined defense budgets of the bloc’s members total an estimated $250 billion a year.

Commenting on the U.S. proposal to transform post-Cold War NATO into a global security force, Michele Alliot-Marie, the French defense minister, warned that such a change would alienate Europe and damage trans-Atlantic relations.

“We must ensure that the alliance is not watered down through fuzzy new responsibilities,” she wrote in the German daily Die Welt.

One of the arguments for a separate EU army lies in the number of troops actually serving in member countries, some of which rely on volunteer and highly professionalized defense forces while others, including Germany and Italy, use the draft.

2 million EU force

The combined EU defense forces number around 2 million personnel, consuming 60 percent of the joint military budget on pay and pensions.

Despite the significant involvement of various European contingents in Kosovo, Bosnia and in such distant areas as Iraq and Afghanistan under NATO or EU flags, most of Europe’s soldiers remain in their barracks. Britain’s professional army has participated in all major peace-keeping operations, and French soldiers have been deployed in several parts of France’s former African empire.

After this summer’s war between Israel and the Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon, Germany offered patrol gunboats to police the coastal areas. Previously, for sensitive historical reasons, Germany had avoided showing its flag in areas where Israeli and Arab forces were involved.

The cost of peace-keeping missions and of weapons systems duplication weighs heavily on the countries participating in both NATO’s and the EU’s military missions, which are paid for by individual governments.

The result is that NATO and the fledgling European corps compete for the same funds.

Standardization issue

For years NATO — and now the European Union — have been trying to standardize their weapons to facilitate training, availability of spare parts and ammunition supplies. Nonetheless the problem has never been solved.

Thus EU members use 10 types of military helicopters — some dating back to Warsaw Pact days — and 23 types of armored vehicles.

Logistics is a daunting problem during joint military exercises.

Until now, European components participating in distant missions have had to rely on considerable support from NATO — and especially its U.S. member. This has included transport aircraft, helicopters, satellite communications and night-vision equipment.

Enthusiasts of a separate, strong European military force claim that all such problems will be progressively eliminated as Europe develops its own state-of-the-arts arms program, and, above all, research.

And here the problem of cost appears hard to eliminate: EU military planners had considerable difficulty in creating an initial research fund of $60 million — approximately one-fifth of annual military research spending in the United States.

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