NYT - Nato examines latest EU defense moves

December 15, 1999

By The Associated Press

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- NATO foreign ministers, meeting on Wednesday for the first time since the European Union took its historic leap into the defense business, examined the consequences of having two defense organizations in Europe.

While the United States tacitly backs the 15-nation EU's decision to give itself defense capability, there is concern in Washington that such an organization might grow away from NATO, splitting the alliance that has kept overall peace in Europe for more than 50 years.

NATO countries who are not members of the EU, like Turkey, have strong reservations about the EU's defense plans.

The Europeans, on the other hand, still have a lot of serious questions about Washington's preparations to develop and deploy a national missile defense system aimed at protecting it against attack from rogue states that have, or could have, long-range missiles.

"I think that there continues to be the strongest consultation and cooperation between the United States and the European allies on ways of forging an even stronger trans-Atlantic relationship," said U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, sitting in for Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who remained in Washington for the Middle East peace talks.

At their year-end summit last week in Helsinki, Finland, EU leaders approved plans for EU-led military operations in response to international crises where NATO is not engaged. It underlined that NATO remains the "foundation for collective defense."

The key element of the plan is to create a new rapid-reaction corps of 50,000 to 60,000 troops by 2003, backed by hundreds of aircraft and a naval element, capable of deploying within 60 days and sustaining itself for a year.

The idea is to use the force in humanitarian crises, rescue operations and peacekeeping.

"Our discussions will focus on how to reflect the Helsinki decisions in the ongoing work of the alliance ... in such a way as to ensure that work in the EU and NATO remains harmonious, transparent and complementary," said Lord Robertson, the NATO secretary-general.

NATO backs the plan on the assumption that any improvement in Europe's defense capabilities is good for the alliance as a whole.

To deal with defense issues, the EU will create three new bodies -- a standing Political and Security Committee, composed of national representatives at ambassadorial level; a Military Committee composed of national chiefs of defense, represented by military delegates; and a Military Staff, which will provide the European council with military expertise as needed.

The latest American intelligence estimates indicate North Korea, Iran and Iraq have the potential to launch missiles. U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen told the allies two weeks ago that the threat was real and the answer could involve a national missile defense system.

The United States says it won't make a final decision until next summer, but planning is going ahead. Most worrisome from the European view is how they fit into Washington's plans. Development of the new system also will require a partial renegotiation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia. Many of the allies are skeptical.

Talbott is to answer their questions on the missile defense system during the gathering.

Also on the agenda are a review of the NATO-led military operations in Bosnia and Kosovo, relations with Russia and the situation in Chechnya.


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