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EU: Campaign Shows Military Capacity Still Undeveloped

  • Breffni O'Rourke

The European Union has expressed full support for the U.S. campaign to eradicate international terrorism. But the actual commitments to militarily and logistically support U.S. forces in the field are being made by individual Union member-states, like Britain and France, without reference to Brussels. Does this mean the Union still lacks a cohesive foreign and security policy? Will the current crisis strengthen or weaken the EU's fledgling foreign policy arm? RFE/RL correspondent Breffni O'Rourke reports.

Prague, 9 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The European Union has affirmed its full backing for the U.S.-led military action against Afghanistan. In a joint statement issued in Luxembourg yesterday (Monday), the EU's 15 foreign ministers declared "solidarity" with the U.S. and "wholehearted support" for the military action, which it says conforms to the UN Charter regarding self-defense.

The foreign minister of current EU president Belgium, Louis Michel, summed up the sentiment:

"Let there be no doubt, no doubt whatsoever, about our resolve to fully and unreservedly play our full part and take our full responsibility in the fight against terrorism which the international community has embarked on."

At the Luxembourg meeting, the EU also signaled that it plans to take an active role in helping shape events, both politically and diplomatically. It said it is ready to work with the United Nations to install a democratic government in Afghanistan and to help boost stability in Central and South Asia. The ministers also approved a 286-million-dollar humanitarian aid package to Afghanistan.

However, on the military front, the EU is out of the picture.

Individual EU member-states -- notably Britain, but also France -- are contributing militarily to the U.S.-led anti-terror campaign now taking place in Afghanistan. Others, including Germany and Italy, have offered military support, if required. All have been acting in their capacity as NATO members.

London-based independent defense consultant Alexandra Ashbourne says it could hardly be otherwise, in that the EU's common foreign and security policy, which has been in existence only a few years, has n-o means for coping with a military operation like that in Afghanistan.

There is already a small EU military staff in Brussels, but a rapid-reaction force, which is to number some 60,000 troops plus equipment, is still in the planning stages. Alexandra Ashbourne says:

"When all is said and done, Europe 'en masse,' with its idea of the European rapid-reaction force, is not yet capable of participating in a mission such as the one we are going through now [in Afghanistan]. What the EU can do is the humanitarian side, which is in fact what it's best suited for in so many ways."

Explaining why the EU is "best suited" to humanitarian tasks, Ashbourne says: "It is less controversial. It keeps the peace much more among the different members of the EU. It helps those members who are militarily neutral to participate. It is the kind of mission that we do have more capabilities for."

As Ashbourne indicates, the creation of the rapid-reaction force is controversial, in that four of the EU's 15 members are militarily neutral -- namely Ireland, Finland, Sweden and Austria. Some figures in Ireland, in particular, have expressed fears that the EU is "militarizing," as well as gathering more powers to itself at the center.

Because of this controversy, Dublin-based analyst Brendan Halligan sees the defense capability of the EU remaining weak for some time:

"Certainly for the foreseeable future, you could see a very clear distinction between the common defense policy and the EU's diplomatic and other capabilities."

Halligan, who is chairman of the Institute of European Affairs, says that in any case, the EU and NATO are complementary organizations, with NATO providing the military capacity and expertise:

"I think what is very well understood and accepted is the 'division of labor' between NATO and the EU, and I think the current situation really heightens that distinction and that understanding."

Halligan's assessment is that the present anti-terror campaign has neither strengthened nor weakened the EU common security policy but instead has "reaffirmed the status quo." He says he sees no rivalry or duplication emerging between NATO and the planned EU military capacity, as some people fear. He continues:

"The tasks for which it [the rapid-reaction force] is conceived are basically political, humanitarian, and I think the force will therefore remain very much under the control of the political [objectives]. It is not a classical military force; it is really using the military first, in an engineering capacity, secondly, in a policing capacity, and thirdly, for peacekeeping. So it is not [for use in] a conventional military operation as is currently happening in Afghanistan." This would mean the planned EU force would be more suitable, for instance, in future deployments of peacekeeping troops in the Balkans, or in similar tasks.

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