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Western Press Review: EU's Rapid Reaction Force And Other Subjects

Prague, 21 November 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The European Union's decision yesterday to begin building its own rapid reaction military force attracts considerable commentary and analysis in the Western press. There are also comments on Russia's military and the fate of Abdullah Ocalan, the head of the Kurdish Workers' Party, who is under a death sentence in Turkey.


The Irish Times is pleased with the EU's progress toward setting up it own military unit. In an editorial, the paper writes: "The new European Rapid Reaction Force got off to a good start yesterday at its pledging conference in Brussels, attracting more than the required number of troops and indicating that planning for its future is on schedule. EU member-states," the paper says, "have pledged to supply sufficient troops for a 60,000-strong force available for one year and backup troops to allow rotation. This formal commitment is an important moment for the EU, allowing it to live up to its undertakings to bring security to the continent, especially to its southeastern region."

The editorial goes on: "The formula [the EU] has found allows individual states to decide on a voluntary basis what they will contribute and whether and how they will participate in specific operations. [This] is not a standing European army," the paper adds, "but a contingency force tailor-made for crisis-management, humanitarian, peace-enforcing and peace-keeping tasks. It will draw on military personnel training in other settings, mostly those associated with NATO."

It is clear, the paper acknowledges, "that there is still a long way to go before [the new force] will be self-sufficient in airlift and intelligence capabilities, making it necessary to rely [in the interim] on U.S. resources. This new force," it adds, "is part of a long-term process of equalization between the EU and the U.S. in many policy spheres. The Rapid Reaction Force will be controlled by a political and military structure to be endorsed by EU leaders in the months to come."

It concludes its praise for the force with one qualification: "There is understandable concern that [its] decision-making will be too secretive and not subject to sufficient democratic accountability. Such issues are likely to become more active as the force is put in place."


A commentary in the Wall Street Journal Europe by British-based analyst Yvonne Headington is far more skeptical about the quick creation of an effective EU military force. Entitled "The Gap between Military Dreams and Reality," the commentary asks whether the EU defense project has what the writer calls "any real substance." She doubts it.

Headington says that, according to EU officials "the premise [for] establishing a European defense capability is that there will be 'circumstances when it is right for Europe to take the lead.' [The officials] admit that Europe's armed forces, with one or two exceptions, lack the necessary qualities. A little tinkering here and a re-allocation of resources there," she argues, "hardly seems an adequate response to such a demoralizing state of affairs."

Her commentary continues: "France, Germany and [Britain] are pivotal to Europe's embryonic defense capability. France and Germany provide the political momentum while France and [Britain, both possessing nuclear arms,] are the only countries with a meaningful military capability." She adds: "The defense budgets of all EU member states have fallen in the past five years, especially those of France and Germany, 32.6 percent and 32.9 percent, respectively, between 1996 and 2000. While there are now indications that European defense-spending plans may have stabilized, it seems unlikely that governments are willing to make up for recent shortfalls."

Headington concludes: "The EU defense ministers are in great danger of doing the very thing they supposedly wish to avoid: making 'paper promises.'"


A news analysis in the French daily Liberation is more positive about the EU's action yesterday. Writing from Brussels, correspondent Jean Quatremer notes that only one EU member-state, Denmark, is refusing to make a contribution to the new force. "That's not," he notes, "because Denmark is a neutral country -- it is a member of NATO -- but because it refuses on principle to participate in any EU project it regards as furthering the Union's integration."

But all other EU members, Quatremer says, have now pledged "men and material for the use of the force, [due] to become operational at the latest in 2003." Still, the analyst allows, the force will long remain dependent on NATO for support. He writes: "[Yesterday's] paper exercise revealed that the Union shows a clear 'deficit in strategic and tactical capabilities,' in the phrase of Javier Solana, the EU's high representative for common foreign and security policy. That's why," the analyst adds, "the EU force will rely heavily for planning, logistics and information on NATO -- that is, on the Americans." He concludes: "True military independence for the Union is not for the immediate future."


Another news analysis from Brussels, this one by Michael Gordon in the New York Times, says the EU plan raises what he calls "hard questions." Among them, Gordon writes: "Are [EU] nations really prepared to spend the thousands of millions of dollars [needed] to turn their plan into a reality? And will they devise their force in a way that complements and does not undermine NATO, the U.S.-led alliance that Washington insists should retain the primary role for European security?"

The analysis continues: "The immediate issue for the European defense and foreign ministers who gathered [in Brussels yesterday] was getting their initiative off the ground. With two million troops under arms in their countries, manpower is not the problem," Gordon points out. "European nations pledged a pool of more than 100,000 troops, enough to establish a 60,000 force while leaving a reserve. Germany, Britain and France promised the most --12,000 to 13,500 each."

But Gordon, like the other analysts, points to important logistical problems for the projected EU force. "[Getting] the troops to a crisis is a different matter. Throughout the cold war," he says, "the Europeans' objective was to defend their territory against a Warsaw Pact attack. Unlike the United States, most European nations never structured their armed forces to rush to distant battle zones." So, he adds, "to make good on their new plan, European nations need to buy transport planes and cargo ships as well as communications systems. [And] they need to buy laser-guided munitions to improve their striking power from the air and electronic jamming aircraft to thwart enemy air defenses."


In a comment on Russia's military problems in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Werner Adam writes: "Russian President Vladimir Putin has [recently] raked his generals over the coals. His reproach: The current state of the armed forces -- their leadership, morale, discipline and weaponry -- in no way meets present-day demands. Such complaints," Adam notes, "are by no means new, but Mr. Putin, unlike his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, used language unusually harsh for the Russian military."

The commentary continues: "In fact, Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev ought to resign. However, Mr. Sergeyev and his generals can claim that the armed forces' decay was inevitable, as government and parliament have failed to provide adequately for the military, both financially and materially, since the Soviet Union's collapse."

Adam adds: "What Mr. Putin is demanding of the military leadership in Chechnya seems even more dubious. According to the president, the goal is no longer victory at any price, but the rebels in the northern Caucasus are to be 'completely liquidated.'" The commentator exclaims: "Good luck to whoever is supposed to make sense of that!" And he sums up: "Not only the generals, but first and foremost their supreme commander, [Putin], appear increasingly helpless with regard to this desolate affair."


In a commentary for the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Stefan Ulrich warns Turkey of the consequences of carrying out its death sentence on Abdullah Ocalan, the head of the rebel Kurdish Workers' Party. Ocalan has appealed his sentence to the European Court of Human Rights, which today began hearings on the appeal in Strasbourg.

Ulrich writes: "Turkey is not a country to be envied at the present time, with its future in Europe hanging on the fate of no less than [the man the government considers] 'Public Enemy Number One.' If [Ocalan goes] to the gallows, Ankara need hanker no more after a place at the European table -- its quest to join the European Union will be at an end." The commentary goes on: "The EU has made it crystal clear that if Ocalan's death sentence is commuted, and capital punishment subsequently abolished [in Turkey], it would send an unmistakable signal to Brussels that Turkey is out to prove its readiness to relinquish sovereignty over a core, national question. Moreover, it would show that its inclusion on the list of [EU] candidate-countries was a wise decision."

Ulrich adds: "Pro-European politicians in Turkey hope the European Court of Human Rights can now come up with enough arguments to prevent Ocalan's hanging. A decision at the court to that effect could give the government the opportunity to go before the people and announce that they would like to hang him, but they are not permitted to do so."