Int. Herald Tribune
US seems increasingly uncomfortable with EU defense plan

By William Drozdiak

Paris, Monday, March 6, 2000


BRUSSELS - American and NATO officials say they believe the European plan for an independent military force may be a riskier proposition than it seemed just three months ago, when the 15 EU countries decided to go ahead with the project.

Whether it succeeds or fails, they say, the European Security and Defense Initiative, or ESDI, represents a critical leap of faith that could erode American defense guarantees and leave the Continent exposed to new threats of instability.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright sums up American concerns with what she calls the "three D's" - the European defense initiative must not "decouple" the United States from Europe; it must not "duplicate" NATO structures and capabilities, and it must not "discriminate" against NATO members that do not belong to the European Union.

"The litmus test for whether European defense is going to be real is ultimately going to be whether the capabilities are there on the military side to back it up," said Alexander Vershbow, the U.S. ambassador to NATO. He said if the Europeans fail to spend sufficient money to reach the Helsinki goals, it will create a major internal crisis for the alliance.

"It could lead a two-tier alliance in which the Europeans only focus on low intensity situations such as peacekeeping, while leaving NATO to do the dirty work at the high end of the spectrum. That would not be healthy for the trans-Atlantic relationship."

The EU's declared goal of deploying up to 60,000 soldiers within 60 days and sustaining them for one year - the kind of force that could serve as peacekeepers in hot spots like Bosnia and Kosovo - will actually require up to 200,000 soldiers because of rotation needs. Yet, the European allies, with 2 million men and women under arms on paper, had trouble fielding 40,000 soldiers for peacekeeping duty in the Balkans.

At a time when defense budgets have been falling across much of Europe in the absence of any strategic threat, there are grave doubts that the allies will make painful sacrifices to come up with the funds to pay for the manpower and logistical support needed to create a viable rapid-reaction force.

In Germany, the government of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder plans to reduce military spending by $10 billion over the next four years. It already devotes only 1.4 percent of its gross national product to the defense budget, lower than any other NATO country except Luxembourg. According to NATO figures, the United States spends about 3.2 percent, Britain 2.8 percent and France 2.6 percent.

The rush to cash in the peace dividend is best reflected by the paltry sums European countries now devote to military research and development. The United States spends about $35 billion in this area, but the rest of NATO only $9 billion. While European allies together spend about 60 percent of what the United States devotes to its military budget, frequent duplication means they do not come close to generating 60 percent of U.S. capabilities.

The United States is also worried about seeing NATO's role as Europe's primary security organization weakened by the nascent EU force, which like NATO will be governed by distinct political and military committees. The Clinton administration wants NATO to have a "right of first refusal" in dealing with crises before handing off responsibility to the Union.

But France insists the EU must have exclusive powers to decide when and how it will intervene in any Continental crisis. The French reject any formal consultative link between the EU and NATO, fearing that the United States would smother any effort by the Europeans to become more independent.

France's anxiety that any link with NATO would "pollute or contaminate" the Union exasperates the Americans. "It's as if the United States were some kind of computer virus that, once let in the door, would cause a complete meltdown of the EU's ability to take decisions," Mr. Vershbow said.

Within the U.S. Congress, there is skepticism among isolationists and Atlanticists alike about the European project. Those who want to pull the remaining U.S. troops out of Europe doubt the allies will boost their military budgets while those who want to preserve the trans-Atlantic connection fear a failure of the European defense initiative will ruin alliance solidarity.

Among both groups, there is mistrust why Europe feels the need for a second defense institution, created outside NATO, at a time when defense budgets are falling and the allies are even having trouble fulfilling current military responsibilities within NATO.

"The good news is that Kosovo seems to have awakened Europe to the need to address its military shortcomings," said Douglas Bereuter, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives closely involved in the debate about European defense. "The bad news is that, although Europe is taking concrete steps toward assuming more responsibility for foreign and security affairs, it has done so only by taking relatively easy organizational steps."

Mr. Bereuter said he has trouble getting answers to key questions: Will the Europeans develop their own nuclear doctrine, based on the French and British nuclear deterrent forces? Will the Europeans insist on acting only with a UN mandate, something that did not deter NATO from launching the Kosovo air war? Will military command and operating standards be compatible with those of NATO, or will rivalry become institutionalized? And will the commercial rivalry between the United States and the European Union spill over into the defense sector as well?

"The worst of all outcomes would be to enter the 21st century with a European foreign and security policy that competes with NATO and with allies whose military contribution to NATO continues to decline," Mr. Bereuter said.

"It needs to be clear to our European allies that the creation of competing institutions in Europe that detract from NATO's capabilities and solidarity would endanger public and congressional support in the United States for its commitment to the North Atlantic alliance."



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