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EU: Terror Crisis Puts Pressure On Military Plans

The crisis over international terrorism has arrived at a moment when the European Union's common security and defense policy is still in its infancy. The crisis could be a catalyst for further development of the EU's planned military arm, or it could exert excessive pressure -- leading simply to confusion in the policy.

Prague, 18 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The European Union's foreign and security policy chief, Javier Solana, says that -- in view of the present world situation -- the Union should push ahead with plans for an independent military capacity.

Solana says that the EU might have to be ready to take up more responsibility in peacekeeping missions. The United States, preoccupied with the antiterrorism campaign, might redeploy its own peacekeeping troops away from, for example, the Balkans. The EU needs to be ready to step in.

With this in mind, current EU president Belgium is pressing for the Union's planned rapid-reaction force to be declared as having "initial operating capacity" (IOC) for limited missions at the upcoming December summit at Laeken near Brussels.

The rapid-reaction force is supposed to be fully operational with 60,000 soldiers and their equipment by 2003. By this December, only a fraction of that total will be ready. Nevertheless, Ian Kemp, a senior analyst with Jane's military publishing group, says the December deadline is realistic in organizational terms:

"Bearing in mind that it has now been 18 months to two years of planning [for the new force] and the actual [command] staff has been in place in Brussels for several months, there is no reason why they would not be able to undertake a limited mission in a far more effective manner than say, an 'ad hoc' headquarters that would be put together for a typical United Nations mission, for instance."

But another analyst, Mark Hoben of the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels, worries about the broader implications of such a move. He told RFE/RL, "The immediate risk the EU is running is that it might make an empty political gesture of declaring the common defense policy operational, without having the means to implement it. "

He notes that a key question has not been resolved, namely that of Turkey's veto of automatic EU access to NATO assets. Turkey is not willing to agree to such access until it has a greater say in how the EU's rapid-reaction force is deployed. The EU is refusing to give Turkey, which is not yet an EU member, full co-decision rights.

Hoben continues: "We have been hearing both from EU officials and NATO officials in the past few months that the EU could not declare initial operating capacity if that question with Turkey was not resolved; and now we get indications that the EU is considering declaring IOC even with the Turkish question not resolved."

Going ahead with the problem still being unresolved would have several consequences. One is that the rapid-reaction force would have to operate without reliance on NATO assets -- a situation which, in terms of equipment, would eventually become untenable.

The second is that it would breach a commitment by the EU to the United States, that the new EU force would not duplicate NATO structures by creating parallel structures, for instance in military planning.

Hoben says that at this juncture, Brussels cannot expect much help from Washington in pressuring Turkey to compromise. That's because Ankara has shown "great resolve" in supporting the U.S. in the current terrorism crisis.

Another problem confronting the EU's military capacity is money, or the lack of it. British Conservative member of the European Parliament Geoffrey van Orden says: "If the European nations are serious about improving defense capabilities, they are going to have to spend more money on defense, and all the evidence is that they are doing the opposite. Defense spending in real terms continues to fall at the rate of nearly 5 percent a year."

Van Orden, a former British army brigadier, says there are three key areas of weakness in the new military capability in terms of equipment and expertise. One is the lack of long-range transport and in-flight refueling. Another is secure information and communications technology, including satellite communications. A third lack is what van Orden describes as the means of "effective engagement."

"This is really a high-technology weapons system -- like precision, all-weather strike capabilities and electronic warfare capabilities -- to enable us to fight a modern air battle in all weather conditions, night and day, without putting pilots at risk."

The shortfalls in resources coincide with published reports, such as one in the "Financial Times," which state that there are also differences in opinion among member states about the future direction of EU defense policy in light of the terrorism crisis. Some are said to argue that the original role foreseen for the troops is now too restrictive and must be expanded. The original role was limited to humanitarian, rescue, and peacekeeping operations.