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EU: Debate Grows Over Relations With U.S. And NATO Under New Constitution

By Ahto Lobjakas and Ron Synovitz

A debate between EU member states is growing about the impact of the EU's future defense and security policies on relations with NATO and the United States.

Brussels, Prague; 11 September 2003 (RFE/RL) -- With the European Union's intergovernmental constitutional conference due to begin in less than three weeks, a debate is growing within the bloc about how future defense and security policies might impact relations with NATO and the United States.

The intergovernmental conference starts on 4 October, when European delegates gather in Rome in an attempt to finalize the language of a draft constitution for the European Union that would come into force after the EU's eastward expansion. The conference is expected to complete its work in December with a summit in Brussels.

Javier Solana, the EU's high representative on security and foreign policy issues, already is busy explaining his views on the central issue in the security debate -- whether an EU security doctrine should strive for independence from NATO, and therefore the United States, or continue the status quo.

Yesterday in Brussels, Solana told a committee of the European Parliament that a balanced partnership between the EU and the United States should be incorporated into the future European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP). Solana said partnership with the United States is the preferred option for the EU.

"On the relations between the European Union and the United States, we normally solve the problems better if we are together than if we are not together," he said. "Therefore, my appeal is to try to construct and deepen the trans-Atlantic relationship in this particular time -- in which so many challenges have to be tackled."

However, Solana indicated he would like EU leaders to opt for a compromise at the end of the year that gives a new European military force autonomy and avoids "unnecessary" spending on military infrastructure that duplicates what the NATO alliance already provides.

He said: "[The ESDP] will be, in the intergovernmental conference, a very important element of our debate," Solana said. "I do hope that a compromise will be found. It's possible, I think. But the result of that compromise should have, to my mind, two objectives -- one, the possibility of having the Europeans act autonomously when NATO does not act. And secondly, to have the possibility of not duplicating."

Solana made it clear that he wants the EU to play a larger role in the global arena -- one that matches its relative size and economic might. Warning about what he called an emerging "new world disorder," Solana said the EU must be a "key element" in the building of a "freer world." He said the aim should be for more cooperation and solidarity with a vision that reflects "the great European ideas." In the end, Solana said, the EU needs an entirely new strategic culture.

The European parliamentarians listening to Solana in Brussels yesterday appeared broadly supportive of his aims. But some questioned Europe's readiness to engage in peacekeeping missions autonomously from NATO and the United States.

Jan Troejborg, a member of Denmark's national parliament, says he supports the idea of a balanced trans-Atlantic partnership. But he pointed out that Europe's defense capabilities are not equal to those of the United States.

"Many of us are here not least to hear [Mr. Solana's] views on the development of an European defense instrument. And I think there is a crucial discussion going on [about] how to develop the European Defense and Security Policy. [Mr. Solana] underlined the need for an equal footing partnership between the EU and the United States of America. But to become equal partners, Europe of course needs to develop its defense capabilities."

Solana said he supports an increase in the EU's defense expenditures, which currently are about 167 billion euros per year, or just over half of that in the United States.

But Solana says the bloc must find more rational ways to spend on defense. Politicians and experts alike estimate that the EU's yield on its expenditures only reached 10 percent of that in the United States.

Solana supported the idea of a unified European armament agency, but he appeared pessimistic about its prospects. He predicted that EU member states would find it "almost impossible" to agree to such an agency at the intergovernmental conference.

But he said "small steps" can nevertheless be taken in the right direction by trying to induce EU governments to buy weaponry produced within the bloc.

Troejborg then asked Solana to explain his position on two competing sides of the European debate -- a joint proposal by Belgium, France, and Germany for an independent EU military command or the British government's efforts to defend existing cooperation agreements between NATO and the EU.

"Would you prefer the French-German proposal to move forward and build up a totally independent headquarters for EU military planning? Or should we prefer some compromise and the UK proposal on building up a step-by-step approach [that is] well integrated within the NATO military framework -- and to build up the European Security and Defense Policies' military planning within the military headquarters of [NATO's] Strategic Headquarters Allied Command?"

Solana indicated that he favors the continuation of strong ties with the United States and NATO, and said that the strengths of the EU already are needed to complement the capabilities of the United States.

"I don't think that today -- and events of the last month have proven my statement very clearly -- that it is possible for a single country, even the most powerful country in the world, to face the challenges of today alone. I think this is clear in the speech of President Bush a few days ago [asking for more international troop contributions for Iraq]. It shows even the recognition from the president of the United States that it is impossible for them to solve, or to face or to tackle, the difficult problems of today alone."

Solana also said that while the U.S. focus recently has been on use of military force, the EU can offer help in resolving crises through cooperation on intelligence gathering and diplomacy.

"I don't think, honestly, that the center of gravity in the fight against international terrorism is military action. I think it is much more important that there is trust -- trust among the different countries and we can share, really share, intelligence and cooperation in many other domains."

But in his final analysis, Solana said the clash between the Belgian-French-German proposal and London's negotiating position boils down to the issue of whether NATO assets should be used for the command infrastructure of an EU force.

"Deep down, your question is, 'How do we handle headquarters?' Today we have basically two countries that may have a deployable headquarters that can be internationalized. We may have, in the foreseeable future, up to four. But today, we have two countries. One is France and the other is the United Kingdom. Germany will be in the foreseeable future and I hope that others -- like Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands -- may be in the future."

Last weekend, a well-informed EU source suggested to RFE/RL that the bloc's head office is not inclined to offer outright condemnation of the Belgian-French-German initiative. The official said opposition to the plan was predominately a political matter and that militarily, the plan makes sense.

Yesterday, too, Solana suggested in his remarks that continued cooperation with Washington and NATO notwithstanding, an autonomous European force would bolster the political clout of the EU in debates about international security.

"It's very important that the Europeans alone should be able to have the capability on headquarters which are deployable, which are solid, which can be multinationalized, etc., if we want to have -- as we do -- operations which are Europeans' alone, not with NATO or NATO assets."

A draft bill published this week that outlines London's negotiating position for the intergovernmental conference says: "We believe that a flexible, inclusive approach and effective links to NATO are essential to the success of European Security and Defense Policy. We will not agree to anything which is contradictory to, or would replace, the security guarantee established through NATO."

The British government appears concerned that the real goal of the Belgian-French-German proposal is to increase their political independence from the United States by developing a structure for EU military planning that is independent of NATO.

In the end, the EU member states must settle the debate among themselves in the coming weeks. All signs point to continued friction between the British government, which has proven in the past year to be the foremost military ally of the United States, and the capitals of what U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has referred to as "Old Europe," such as Paris and Berlin.