December 2, 1999
NYT - Europe Says Its Strike Force Won't Impair Role of Nato


PARIS -- Senior defense officials of France, Germany and Britain are trying to reassure the United States prior to a NATO meeting on Thursday that rapidly coalescing plans to create an independent European military intervention force would not weaken the Atlantic alliance.

France, Germany, Britain and Italy, which have the largest armed forces in Western Europe, plan to ask leaders of all 15 European Union countries to agree in Helsinki, Finland, next week to lay the groundwork by no later than 2003 for a European crisis-response force of up to 60,000 troops, according to officials in Paris and Brussels, Belgium.

Finland, which will preside over the meeting on Dec. 9 and 10, has proposed a draft agreement on a force of 50,000 soldiers that could be sent within 60 days to crisis situations on Europe's periphery and stay for up to two years, according to a European Union official in Brussels. The Europeans say they need such a force for crises that the United States and Canada might not want to become involved in.

The Finnish draft also incorporates French, German, British and Italian proposals to set up a permanent European political and security committee of senior officials in Brussels, a military committee of senior defense chiefs from participating countries to advise them, and eventually a permanent military staff in Brussels to plan and coordinate military operations in the field, this official said.

While there is growing consensus on the need for Europe to restructure its defenses, many of the European allies are actually cutting military spending. U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen criticized Germany on Wednesday for spending only 1.5 percent of its gross domestic product on defense.

"The decisions Germany makes in the next few months and years will have a profound and lasting impact on the capabilities, not only of this nation, but of the alliance as a whole," he said in Hamburg.

Officials in Washington and at NATO headquarters in Brussels fear that the new push for an independent European military arm will divert resources and attention from NATO.

German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping did not address the spending issue in a speech at the French Military Academy in Paris on Tuesday, but said reorganized armies that were more easily deployable would strengthen the European contribution to NATO. "In the trans-Atlantic alliance, we don't have too much America, we have too little Europe," he said.

His French counterpart, Alain Richard, added, "The emergence of a true European defense pillar will help make the alliance better able to adapt to the requirements of new missions -- and make it stronger, because it is more balanced."

At their side, John Spellar, Britain's armed forces minister, said, "We have to accept that Europe has not been pulling its weight in its own back yard." He added, "We must be clear that NATO is the cornerstone of our defense and security policy."

The European Union recently appointed Javier Solana, NATO's former secretary general, as its defense and security coordinator, and French officials said he would preside over the development of the new European defense institutions that could emerge if neutral European Union members like Sweden, Austria and Ireland agree next week to let the others go ahead with closer cooperation on defense.

The push was accelerated by the European allies' realization during this year's NATO bombing campaign in Kosovo that they had nothing like the ability of the United States to move hundreds of fighter-bombers to the theater of operations, use sophisticated satellite technology to guide bombs to their targets, and neutralize Serbian antiaircraft defenses -- even though the conflict was less than an hour's flying time from their own territories.

Stung by the realities of how little military muscle they could actually bring to bear in a crisis after they reached agreement on a common policy, European Union leaders decided last June on the need to set up their own defense arm.

One reason they were able to agree was that the Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain had concluded from the earlier European debacle in Bosnia, where fighting ended only after the United States and NATO finally weighed in in 1995, that if Europe was to deal with similar crises in the future it would have to have the ability to act even without the United States.

The Finnish proposal for the European meeting includes measures to try to reassure the United States, Canada, Turkey and other NATO countries outside the European Union.

French officials also said they were working to reassure neutral European Union members that no country would be compelled to participate in a military action.

One unanswered question in all this is what kind of crisis would lead the Europeans to intervene. Chechnya, in Russian territory, does not appear to be among them, though France and Germany said on Tuesday that they were "shocked by the consequences of repression for the civil population" and demanded that Russia make good on a promise to let in an international observer mission.

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