CEOL - Politics May Sway Military Choice On Kosovo

BRUSSELS, Dec 2, 1999 -- (Reuters) Politics may play a key role in deciding whether NATO forces in Kosovo are led next year by a Franco-German corps emblematic of the European Union's new military aspirations, NATO sources said on Wednesday.

Alliance Supreme Commander Europe General Wesley Clark is due to decide by year-end whether the Strasbourg-based Eurocorps should take on NATO's biggest job, as Paris and Berlin wish.

Rejecting their bid could be taken as a NATO slap in the face for Europeans keen to showcase their military capability and commitment to peacekeeping.

"Certain countries place a lot of importance on the status involved," a NATO diplomat commented.

But certifying the Eurocorps fit to take command of the 42,000-strong Kosovo peacekeeping mission (KFOR) may not be easy on purely military grounds, military sources said.

"General Clark makes the recommendation, but there is going to be a lot of political massaging behind the scenes," one military official told Reuters.

The Allied Command Europe's Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC), led KFOR into Kosovo under British Lieutenant-General Sir Mike Jackson in June, and the LANDCENT command under German General Klaus Reinhardt took over in October. Its mandate expires in April.

Unlike ARRC and LANDCENT, the five-country Eurocorps is not firmly embedded in NATO and would need substantially more personnel than it now has, the military source said.

Military units assigned for use by Eurocorps are largely configured for main defense, not rapid reaction, and made up of conscripts doing national service rather than professionals.

"The working language of KFOR is English. Eurocorps is largely French-based," the source added. In addition, Eurocorps uses different procedures, which would have to be changed.

Open mind

Eurocorps, which includes units from Spain, Belgium and Luxembourg, is seen by some as the embryo of a future European army but has fewer than 6,000 troops under its direct command and a headquarters command of only 350 officers.

KFOR currently requires a headquarters command of around 1,400 and their are no plans to reduce the size of the force.

The idea of putting Eurocorps in charge was discussed behind the scenes only at NATO until General Alain Bevillard of the French general staff made it public last Thursday. He said the unit could be ready by July but sooner if needed.

President Jacques Chirac of France and Germany Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder issued a declaration in Paris on Tuesday in which they "welcomed progress towards its taking over the rotating command of KFOR".

"We're looking at it with an open mind," said a senior NATO diplomat. "The key is whether it has sufficient capability to do the job.

"I don't know that the Eurocorps as currently constituted could fully staff all of those positions," he added. It might be possible to augment the unit but it was not clear "whether that can be done in the context of the next rotation in spring".

One solution might be to extend Reinhardt's stay in Kosovo until Eurocorps adds muscle. Another is to assign KFOR command to NATO's Sub-Regional Command South, based in Verona, Italy.

As for the longer term goal expressed by France and Germany of turning the Eurocorps into an EU rapid reaction force for crisis management, the diplomat said there were questions:

Would it be available for NATO missions and exercised regularly in the NATO system? And would it be fully integrated, inter-operable and compatible, like the existing ARRC?

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