Eurocorps to run Kosovo peace force

Richard Norton-Taylor

Tuesday April 18, 2000

Moves towards closer European security and defence cooperation will get a boost today when Eurocorps, the French-sponsored multinational military grouping, takes over the running of the international peacekeeping force in Kosovo.

It is the first time in Nato's history that the alliance has entrusted an external operation to a unit which is not part of its integrated, US-dominated, command structure.

A Spanish general, Juan Ortuno, commander of Eurocorps, will take over K-For's headquarters in Pristina with a senior French officer as his deputy. He will command nearly 1,000 staff officers, including US, British, and Russian personnel.

The decision to give Eurocorps the task of controlling K-For after months of pressure from France and Germany has deep political resonance at a time when the US remains unhappy about EU plans for a European security and defence identity.

Eurocorps is a politically-driven creation from which Britain has kept its distance on the grounds that it is potentially divisive and more symbolic than militarily effective. Originally proposed by France, it now includes Germany, Spain, Belgium, and Luxembourg. It consists of 60,000 soldiers, based in Strasbourg, though it will contribute just 335 senior officers to the K-For headquarters, 30% of the total.

Eurocorps has never acted separately from Nato, and alliance officials insisted yesterday that K-For would remain Nato-led. K-For will revert to an integrated Nato command after six months.

The US remains sceptical about the EU's pledge to create an autonomous rapid reaction force of 60,000 soldiers, separate from Eurocorps, by 2003. Under this plan, the soldiers would be deployable within 60 days and be able to participate in peacekeeping operations for a year. Because of rotation needs, the plan would require up to 200,000 soldiers.

As Lord Robertson, Nato's secretary general, has pointed out, the European allies, with 2m mainly conscripted men and women under arms, had trouble fielding 40,000 soldiers for Kosovo.

The EU has agreed that its proposed force would be deployed in operations only after Nato has declined to do so.

Before the end of the year, the EU is due to hold its first "force generation" conference, where member states would be asked to make offers of troop numbers and equipment for the proposed rapid reaction force.

The US continues to express concern that the plan could be divisive, involve a new tier of bureaucracy, and that non-EU European allies could be excluded from decision-making.

The EU has recently set up a political and security committee and a military committee, as well as an international military staff attached to its Brussels headquarters.

The coming months will be decisive in helping to shape Nato's future, not least since France, keen to seize the opportunity for greater European independence in security affairs, takes over the EU presidency, on July 1.

Original article