U.S. and Europe tense on defence
DAVOS, Switzerland (CNN) -- Clear tension has emerged between Europe and the U.S. over two key defence issues.
The division centres on the Bush administration's determination to push ahead with the National Missile Defense system (NMD) and the EU's plan to develop a European defence dimension with a Rapid Reaction Force (RRF).
On NMD the Europeans fear that the Americans will start dismantling arms treaties like the 1972 Anti Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and set off an expensive new worldwide arms race. There might be a benefit to the U.S., they say, but none to its NATO allies.
Incredulous Americans respond by asking if the others really expect them to fail to protect themselves against rogue states who have acquired nuclear weapons and missile delivery systems.
Russia and China have vociferously opposed the American plans, with support from European leaders like French President Jacques Chirac , who has called them “an invitation to proliferation.”
But there are signs of the initial hot flushes receding. Russia has put forward its own plans for a commission of experts to design a European missile defence system to negate any threat to the region from rogue states. The U.S. has hinted it will discuss its own plans with other world powers as well as its NATO allies.
Although he later toned down his comments, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien told his Parliament on February 22 that the Bush administration had said they would not proceed with NMD “if it will cause a lot of problems for Nato and if they cannot find an arrangement with the Chinese and the Russians.”
It need not become a row. The technology will take years to develop and Bush and his team will be working the phones before any concrete decisions are taken. They might even extend NMD protection to some of those who agitate.
But European defence is more complicated. The puzzled Europeans say Americans have been nagging them for years to pick up more responsibility for their own defence.
Future of NATO questioned
Now they are planning to do so there is a furious fluttering of fans and swishing of petticoats in Washington with American senators, congressmen and businessmen warning that RRF could make NATO obsolete.
But European leaders have no intention of scrapping the transatlantic defence alliance.
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, one of the main proponents of RRF along with French President Jacques Chirac, says it is only there to do what NATO chooses not to do -- mostly with troops, intelligence and equipment borrowed from NATO.
Some Americans say they are so shocked by the European defence proposals that if there were another Kosovo crisis now they would not join in.
But that is precisely the point. The RRF was born partly of Europe's shame that it was unable to mount the Kosovan operations on its own doorstep without American help and its realisation that America could not be expected to keep doing so in future.
The problem is that the French, the other main originators of RRF, enjoy tweaking American tails.
Chirac has talked up the "independence" of the RRF from NATO for domestic political reasons.
Americans too tend to pay more attention to the press in Britain than the rest of Europe, and it has suited the vociferous anti-sceptic majority in the media to play the "threat to NATO" angle for all they are worth.
The truth is that the EU and NATO have to negotiate the arrangements for the new European defence dimension.
They will have to work together. And as they do so some of those transatlantic fears may fade.
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