EU members pledge troops to rapid reaction force outside NATO


BRUSSELS, Reuters

European Union defense ministers on Monday pledged troops, ships and planes to a rapid reaction force for crisis management operations and said it was just the first step in building up the EU’s own military power.

According to a draft copy of a communique to be made public later in the day, the EU ministers made pledges totalling more than 100,000 troops, some 400 aircraft and 100 ships.

It said the “force catalogue” confirmed that the 15-member Union would meet its 2003 goal of being able to field a force of up to 60,000 within 60 days and to maintain it for one year.

“This process, without unnecessary duplication (with NATO military assets) does not involve the establishment of a European Army,” the draft said, rebutting charges by British “eurosceptics” that it was creating a permanent federal force.

It was, however, “an integral part of strengthening the EU’s common foreign and security policy” and ministers pledged further quantitative and qualitative improvements beyond 2003.

“It remains essential to the credibility and the effectiveness of the European security and defense policy that the European Union military capability for crisis management be reinforced, so that the EU is in a position to intervene with or without recourse to NATO assets,” the statement said.

The conference did not create any new military forces in addition to those European Union members already possess.

“We have completed a serious first step…we have much of what we need…we are committed and determined to provide the rest in time to meet our deadline,” Javier Solana, the EU’s foreign and security policy chief, told ministers.

He said collective political will was essential for crisis management, and that would include defense budgets, in which most EU states are judged deficient.

European leaders set their “headline goal” for the force at a summit in Helsinki nearly a year ago but very few have ordered any increase in military spending to help achieve it.

Solana said the Union needed to keep up the tempo, notably with a deal with NATO — still to be agreed after three months of talks — on the future structure of cooperation.

France, Britain and Germany, the major powers with the biggest populations, will provide more than half the future force at its maximum size.

On Tuesday, non-EU NATO members which plan to collaborate with the EU force will announce their likely contributions, as will states which belong to neither but hope to join both.

Military sources said most of the assets pledged by NATO allies which are also EU members are already committed to the Atlantic alliance, whose resources can be borrowed by the EU when NATO as such is not involved in a mission.

Any numbers announced on Monday should come with a “health warning”, an EU official said on Friday.

There was clearly a political need to display worthy contributions, as shown by Italy’s pique at reports it would provide only 6,000 troops against 12,000 each for the big three.

The European corps is envisaged as a force which can be adapted to a variety of crisis tasks, from evacuation of EU nationals to peace enforcement by heavily armed combat troops.

The resources needed are therefore larger than the maximum force foreseen, and the EU will need two soldiers in the pipeline — trained and equipped — for every one in the field.

The draft statement recalled that autonomous military ability was set as a priority EU goal at the Cologne summit in summer 1998 and was now well on track.