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NATO: Europe Must Strengthen Its Own Defense

London, 9 September 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Incoming NATO Secretary-General George Robertson says the Kosovo conflict has underlined the need for the 15 European Union members to strengthen their political and military contributions to European security.

Robertson spoke at a conference in London last night on "the way forward for Europe." He is due soon to step down as British defense secretary to succeed NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana,

Robertson said that the EU's reliance on U.S. military power in the Kosovo campaign showed "Europe should do better."

He said European NATO members had to rely on U.S. air power for the night and day precision bombing campaign aimed at halting Serb repression of the province's ethnic Albanian majority.

Robertson noted that the Europeans flew only a third of the total number of aircraft sorties during the 11-week campaign, and only 20 percent of the strike sorties, He said: "It was American military power that gave credibility to the diplomatic campaign."

Robertson called attention to the fact that the majority of forces now under NATO command in the KFOR peacekeeping mission in Kosovo are European. But, he said, the KFOR mission has strained Europe's collective resources, even though Europe has contributed only several tens of thousands of men. That amount, he stressed, was "less than two percent of the total military personnel available to us."

What are the lessons of all this? Robertson asked. NATO planners, he said, are now focusing the European defense debate on the need for the Europeans to enhance their collective capability to safeguard their own security.

Robertson said there is growing consensus that defense budgets must be spent more wisely. Too many European armed forces are still structured to face the needs of the Cold War "rather than the requirements of the next millennium." He added: "We no longer face an overwhelming monolithic threat to our continent."

Robertson went on to say that in the future Europeans will more likely need to respond to more complex threats to their common interests. They can expect to operate more often in a multinational, not a national, context.

Robertson said these factors will place new demands on European armed forces. They will need to be readily and rapidly deployable to reach crises areas quickly and in sufficient strength.

In addition, military planners will need to sustain these forces for extended periods away from home bases. Often -- as in Kosovo -- the forces will be deployed where the local infrastructure is insufficient to support them.

How to achieve this? Robertson says that NATO's Defense Capabilities Initiative, launched at the Alliance summit in Washington in April, is focusing on improving the Europeans' defense performance.

Also, the Western European Union -- long the dormant defense arm of the EU -- is conducting an audit of European military capabilities that will help identify shortfalls and problems. In addition, a drive is on to formulate European defense capability criteria, which will establish both collective and national performance goals.

Robertson said EU nations can harness a lot of political momentum by appealing to a common belief in the European cause. But NATO's defense planning, he added, "must remain the primary means for actually delivering the capability improvements."

Robertson concluded: "NATO remains the cornerstone of our security and defense policy. But Europe must be able to field a stronger and more coherent contribution to it."