Int. Herald Tribune
US starts to fret over EU military independence

Frederick Bonnart

Paris, Wednesday, May 24, 2000

BRUSSELS - Worries about the emerging European defense organization are surfacing in Washington, where powerful political circles consider it another step in the potential erosion of U.S. power and influence in Europe. They fear that NATO is being sidelined by the European Union.

Similar anxieties have become apparent among NATO allies who are not in the EU and who fear their exclusion from decisions directly affecting their security.

Such doubts need to be addressed quickly lest they encourage isolationist groups on both sides of the Atlantic. They provide material on the one hand for those U.S. politicians who wish to maintain and improve American military power regardless of the concern of allies and existing arms limitation treaties. They create a reaction in similarly inclined Europeans who chafe under what they see as American hegemonistic tendencies.

In fact, little justification exists for these attitudes. The EU has specifically limited its security aims to peacekeeping, rising at most to peace-enforcement with combat troops if necessary. It has continually stressed NATO's primacy in defense. This is essential for the Union in any case, as no mutual security guarantee is written into the European treaty, nor can one be obtained in the near future. Nor will a force capability be available for such a defense anytime soon.

Nevertheless, NATO diplomats, who understand this, distinguish between the European security and defense identity, which has long been part of NATO planning, and the budding military structure now being built by the EU in the framework of its common foreign and security policy. While the former is well integrated into NATO's military structure with potential European commanders who are NATO officers, the Union is building a separate structure that remains completely outside NATO control. The matter will receive considerable attention at the meeting of NATO's foreign ministers in Florence on Wednesday.

Europe's so-called headline goal is to create an autonomous military force under its own command by 2003. An ongoing intergovernmental conference will ask member countries to restructure their armed forces to provide a corps-sized European force of about 60,000 soldiers to be available for operations within 60 days, with a smaller rapid reaction element for instant action. This force is to have the necessary equipment, such as command and control, air and sea transport, intelligence availability and logistic and combat support. Such equipment is also required by its members for NATO, which will therefore benefit. But a force of this size could only take on a limited peace-enforcement operation. It would not be able, unaided, to undertake a Kosovo-size intervention, let alone supplant NATO in defending its members.

An outline security organization was approved at Helsinki, consisting of a Political and Security Committee, normally constituted by the member nations' foreign and defense ministers, to exercise the political control and strategic direction. A military committee of their chiefs of defense is to give it military advice and direct a military staff that is to provide the technical expertise and conduct any military operations. All these bodies are to exist permanently in Brussels at senior official and senior military officer level.

An interim organization is now being set up. Member nations have nominated permanent representatives at ambassador level to an interim political and security committee, as well as senior officers to an interim military committee.

NATO is kept fully informed of these developments, both officially and unofficially. Eleven of the European chiefs of defense, who recently met for the first time in a European Military Committee, came together with their non-EU NATO colleagues in the NATO Military Committee a few days later. EU countries are encouraged to ''double-hat'' their NATO military delegates as EU military delegates, thus increasing transparency. The secretaries-general of both organizations, Javier Solana and Lord Robertson, meet informally twice a month. Meetings are scheduled between EU and NATO officials in which the means of cooperation are to be worked out. And, since most of the EU countries are also NATO members, their respective delegations are fully informed of European plans and activities.

The six non-EU European NATO countries (Iceland, Norway, Turkey, Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland) that feel that they should be part of the decisionmaking mechanism have requested a special status. At present, the EU has decided to hold two formal meetings with them in each six-month presidency, and to keep them fully informed in the intervals.

But it is true that NATO - and thus these countries as well as the United States - can play no active part in the EU's defense decisions, and they cannot expect to, however great their indirect influence. Yet, for the United States the emergence of the European Union as a rival military power is not a concern in the foreseeable future. Europe will look to NATO for its own defense as long as a potential threat can arise. And, inasmuch as greater European cohesion in the defense field is achieved, it will add strength to the alliance.

Original article