Prague, 24 November 2004 (RFE/RL) -- After several years of confusion on how it should develop a military role, the European Union this week has taken key steps toward becoming a coherent military entity.
Security analyst Dick Leurdyk of the Netherlands Institute of International Relations, said the EU is lifting its profile enormously as an independent player on the international security stage.
"The European Union is absolutely in the middle of a process to present itself as a full-fledged international actor in the international security field," Leurdyk said.
One event is that the EU has won unanimous approval of the UN Security Council to manage the international stabilization efforts in Bosnia.
The council's decision means that some 7,000 EU troops will take over peacekeeping duties in Bosnia by the end of the year. To be called EUFOR, the European force will replace the present NATO-led force there. This is the first time the EU as an entity has taken responsibility for such a weighty military mission as Bosnia.
The Bosnia mission marks the real start of the EU as a military entity.
It's true that the EU last year undertook two peace missions, one in Macedonia and the other in the Congo. But the Macedonian mission was very small, and the Congo operation, though labeled an EU effort, basically consisted of French troops experienced in intervening in West Africa.
The Bosnia mission is on a different scale, and marks the real start of the EU as a military entity.
"It is absolutely clear to me that we will see more of these kinds of decisions taken by the European Union [to perform such missions] in the coming years," Leurdyk said.
This week's other big development for the EU was the commitment by defense ministers of the 25-country bloc to set up a total of 13 rapid-reaction battle groups by 2007.
"This is, so to say, a milestone in the European Union's capabilities, I would say, because now it seems to me that this is absolutely illustrating the fact that Europe is building not only a European security strategy, but has been starting now to implement that strategy, and one of the first requirements is of course that you need to have your military capabilities ready," Leurdyk said.
Netherlands Defense Minister Henk Kamp announced the EU move after a ministerial meeting in Brussels on 22 November.
Kamp said a total of 13 battle groups of 1,500 soldiers each would be formed, which would allow for the EU to field peacekeeping forces to two different crises at the same time.
"There will be the capability of [undertaking] one mission by a battle group in the year 2005, there are some battle groups available for that, the same in the year 2006, a single mission, but in the years after that it is possible to realize two missions every year, for which there will be two battle groups available," Kamp said.
Kamp listed each of the countries that have decided to join in forming a battle group. One of the 13 groups, for instance, will include troops from Poland, Germany, Slovakia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Another will consist of troops from Italy, Hungary, and Slovenia, and so on. They are rapid reaction units that should be ready for deployment at five to 10 days' notice.
The battle groups will be directly under EU authority and outside the trans-Atlantic NATO command structure. The efforts of the EU to develop a rapid-reaction force independent of NATO has caused continuing friction with Washington, which sees the alliance as the key security system for Europe.
Kamp said the EU member states are encouraged to reach out to include in their activities countries outside the union, and even outside NATO.
"We have also agreed that [EU] member states are welcome to include the non-EU European NATO countries, and candidates for accession, and other potential partners in their battle groups," Kamp said.
The Dutch minister further said the Brussels meeting pledged to work toward filling the gaps in equipment and capabilities that could undermine the rapid-reaction concept.
For instance, the EU countries have presently almost no strategic lift air-transport planes to take troops to trouble spots. They also lack mid-air refueling capability, communications capability, and intelligence resources.
In the broader perspective, the EU's real role as a military player in the world is limited by its lack of a common foreign and security policy.
Today's system, where important decisions are hammered out often with enormous difficulty in the Council of Ministers or at periodic leadership summits, prevents coherent policy development.
"We know that the United States has one central administration, and decision-making process," Leurdyk said. "Here in Europe it's different, given the fact that we are now supposed to have 25 countries taking one decision, and that is by definition something which is quite complicated."
The EU's new constitution, which is due to be ratified by member states over the coming two years, is supposed to streamline the decision-making process, and create powerful new offices, such as that of an EU foreign minister.
But the constitution is controversial exactly because it does aim to reduce the rights of individual member states to veto decisions, and it is not yet clear when or even whether the constitution will be adopted.