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NATO battles EU over defence

NATO battles EU over defence

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- NATO foreign ministers are meeting to discuss for the first time the implications of the European Union's planned Rapid Reaction Force.

The EU plans to create its own defence force of up to 60,000 ground troops deployable by 2003.

The force, separate from NATO but with plans to share some NATO planning facilities, intelligence and communications, would be used to meet crises that NATO does not want to get involved in.

The EU's 15 leaders approved a detailed report on European security and defence policy, compiled by France, but the scheme is viewed with concern by some NATO members, including the United States.

U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen has warned that if the new force were to be set up as a competing structure, NATO could become a "relic of history."

NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson said that Cohen had been right to warn the Europeans, adding that any rivalry would be "highly dangerous for both organisations."

As she arrived for Thursday's meeting in Brussels, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said it would take time to make an agreement with the EU that did not shut out some NATO allies.

Albright has warned about the danger of "decoupling" the Europeans from the United States.

The meeting was taking place as France again repeated its belief that the EU force would be "independent" of NATO.

A spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry said: "No one challenges the principle of the importance of the Atlantic alliance.

"Europe's defence must be co-ordinated with the alliance, but as far as its planning and implementation are concerned, it must be independent of SHAPE (Nato's Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers in Europe).

"Co-ordinated but independent."

He said the EU needed "the autonomous capacity to decide to launch an operation and to decide on the means to conduct it."

But he insisted the rapid reaction force was "the best way to reinforce the whole of the alliance."

France is the only power among NATO's 19 allies whose military forces are not part of the alliance's integrated command structure. It maintains that U.S. "hyperpower" in a unipolar world is dangerous for stability.

On Wednesday, NATO ambassadors met in acrimony and frustration as allies disputed the basic terms of their future relationship with the EU, 11 of whose 15 members are also NATO allies.

NATO has a number of problems with the EU plan, including
  • France's desire to set up a separate military planning capability.
  • how EU access to NATO assets will work.
  • arrangements for EU-NATO consultations.
  • security arrangements to allow EU access to NATO secrets.

NATO has a number of problems with the EU plan, including France's desire to set up a separate military planning capability, how EU access to NATO assets will work, permanent arrangements for EU-NATO consultations, their level and frequency, how non-EU NATO members will be able to participate in plans to use NATO assets by the EU, and a security arrangement permitting the EU access to NATO secrets.

Robertson said: "Setting up a completely independent planning capability for the European Union is neither desirable nor is it necessary, and given limited defence budgets it would be a bit of a waste of money to have it."

Robertson says if the EU wants to use NATO assets, such as airborne warning and control aircraft, intelligence and communications, they will have to use the NATO military planning facility at supreme allied headquarters in Belgium.

"If they want NATO assets, then they have to come through the NATO planning system, it's a simple as that," he said.

The problems are compounded by Turkey, which, fearing it will be shut out of decision-making by the EU, is blocking a framework statement on NATO's readiness to permit the future European Rapid Reaction Force to use alliance resources for crisis-management when NATO is not involved.

Turkey wants non-EU NATO members, such as itself, assured of closer participation than the EU aims to grant.

"There is a climate of mistrust and it's focused on one of the 19 allies," said a diplomat, referring to France.

"The Turks are being inflexible, but no one mistrusts their motives," he added.

It is unlikely that an agreement will be issued by NATO foreign ministers. Sources said wording was not even remotely agreed to on crucial paragraphs outlining a deal.

Reuters contributed to this report.



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