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EU: Efforts Under Way To Boost Military Muscle

  • Ahto Lobjakas

A meeting of European Union defense ministers in Brussels this week agreed on a variety of ambitious measures to boost military cooperation within the bloc. They gave a green light to the creation of an embryonic EU headquarters and a central armaments agency; approved the takeover of the NATO-led SFOR deployment in Bosnia by a new EU force; and discussed plans for another EU rapid-reaction force.

Brussels, 7 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The EU's foreign- and security-policy coordinator, Javier Solana, yesterday promised renewed vigor for the bloc's defense cooperation this year.

He said the EU summit in June is likely to approve the creation of a new armaments agency; an operational planning cell that could develop into a full-fledged headquarters; and the replacement of the current NATO mission in Bosnia with a new force, called EUFOR.

By December, Solana said, all of these decisions should be implemented.

Plans to set up a new rapid-reaction force are a key aspect of the EU's evolving global ambitions.
Meanwhile, in the background, the EU will also start developing another rapid-reaction force, to replace the failed 1999 goal of assembling 60,000 men by 2003. The new force will instead have between 10,000 and 15,000 men by 2010.

"So, 2004 is a very spectacular year for [the European Security and Defense Policy],” Solana said. “When you think about what is going on in 2004 in a number of areas in the European Union, sometimes you can become pessimistic. You shouldn't be. You should be really optimistic that a really important field of the action of the European Union is working, is working very rapidly, is working very seriously, and is working very efficiently."

Solana said the EU's takeover in Bosnia has been approved by the United States. The EUFOR mission will replace NATO's SFOR at the latter's full strength, which after planned cutbacks should amount to 7,000 men.

Solana conceded yesterday that the EU has been forced to leave NATO in charge of apprehending suspected war criminals and training the Bosnian army. However, he stressed, NATO's troop strength in Bosnia from 2005 will be measured in the hundreds of soldiers. Solana also made clear that although EUFOR will use NATO assets, it will be under exclusive EU command.

The EU's military-planning cell will play an important role in managing the Bosnian operation. Recent reports say the cell could number up to 100 officials. Solana said yesterday it could become a full-fledged EU headquarters. He said a NATO liaison office will be attached to the cell, while NATO's military planning structures will acquire an EU component.

The creation of an EU armaments agency also appears a certainty. The agency will be in charge of coordinating defense procurements, research and development, and contacts with EU defense industries. Ireland's Defense Minister Michael Smith -- speaking for the current EU Presidency -- said increases in EU defense spending are unlikely. But he said better coordination could result in significant efficiencies.

Speaking after the meeting, Smith said plans to set up a new rapid-reaction force are a key aspect of the EU's evolving global ambitions. "The EU has to be able to act quickly. Rapid response has thus become central to our efforts," Smith said. "The UN, in particular, has shown increasing interest in the EU's potential for rapid response, and we had a good discussion on that matter yesterday [5 April]."

The plans revealed in a draft report -- seen by RFE/RL -- say battalion-size battle groups will be set up, capable of deploying anywhere in the world within 15 days. The groups' mandate is said to include the full range of peacemaking activities in conflicts, including preventive engagement.

Addressing cooperation with NATO, the draft EU paper says member states deciding to commit troops to the EU force should not make separate contributions to the alliance's own reaction force.

Officials said the battle groups will each number 1,500 men. Seven to nine groups are planned by 2010. The EU's intended primary focus is on Africa.
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