New European Security Initiative
A new European security policy is being drafted which will set out to prove the EU can act militarily without the US. A large boost in defence spending is expected and UN peacekeepers may no longer be needed. John Howard reports.
Embarrassed over the Balkan crisis, EU ministers are meeting this week to create a Rapid Reaction Force (RRF), by 2003, of as many as 60,000 troops which can be deployed within 60 days.
The new policy will allow Western Europe to defuse crises beyond its borders with America's blessing but not always with its troops.
A European RRF must be able to mount campaign's lasting at least a year and it will rotate troops in and out, bringing the total commitment to 200,000 soldiers according to EU officials.
EU armies have two million soldiers but in the Balkan crisis, government's could barely deploy 2 per cent of that number into Kosovo.
Three quarters of the aircraft, four fifths of the ordinance and most of the intelligence in the former Yugoslavia were provided by the US.
Defence spending of the European NATO members is 60 per cent of US defence spending yet their ability to project a military force is only 15 per cent of Washington's.
The impetus for a greater EU security role has been a decade coming in which successive Balkan crises have come and gone with the Europeans leaving it to Washington to take the lead in bringing peace and stability to the region.
"We are not earmarked on an exercise in wind-baggery. We have seen where Europe has failed," EU External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten told EU and US legislators in Brussels.
"It is our duty to do better. It was the Balkan crisis that obliged us to engage more directly in conflict prevention and crisis management. The simple truth is that we have not been organised or equipped for this work," Mr Patten said.
This week's meeting is mainly a technical one to establish the structrure of the new force with assurances that the NATO alliance, which includes the US, will remain the key European security provider.
The Europeans have not done well in defence and security and analyst's are welcoming the news that finally much of the burden for costly crisis management and peacekeeping may be lifted from other UN member states.
Shaping a credible defence policy will mean the EU nations must improve decision-making procedures, boost defence spending and agree to more co-production of arms and jointly put troops in the field.