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EU: Agreement With Turkey Near On Rapid Reaction Force

Turkey has signaled that a solution is in sight in its long-running dispute with the European Union over the EU's planned rapid-reaction military force. Turkey has been threatening to block the envisaged force from using NATO assets unless the EU agrees to give Turkey co-decision rights on questions of deployment. The EU has been unwilling to do so and has pressed ahead with its preparations. The idea is to have some 60,000 troops ready for deployment in a range of humanitarian and peacekeeping tasks by 2003.

Prague, 3 December 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Turkey and the European Union are apparently closer to a solution in their lengthy row over what say Ankara will have in the deployment of the EU's new rapid-reaction troops.

A Turkish government statement issued in Ankara yesterday said "a concrete basis" for cooperation had been achieved with the EU. It gave no details of any deal reached, but in a separate comment to journalists, Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit said that Turkey's "expectations" had largely been met.

Turkey had been demanding equal co-decision rights with EU member-states on when and where the force should be deployed. But the EU was unwilling to give Turkey -- which is not an EU member -- what amounted to a veto over the use of the force. In return, NATO-member Turkey blocked automatic access by the rapid-reaction force to NATO's assets, particularly its military planning facilities.

Unofficial media reports say Turkey has now withdrawn its demand for full co-decision rights in all cases. They say that it has settled for pledges that it will be involved in decision-making if and when the EU force would be deployed in an area of concern to Turkey, such as the Balkans. But in turn, the reports say, the EU will not have automatic access to NATO assets, but must request access in each individual case.

British-based independent military analyst Alexandra Ashbourne evaluated the situation following the statement from Ankara by saying: "The way I see this is that it is a face-saving device on the Turkish side, so that they can say, 'Look, we still retain some authority and some control.' I would imagine the Turkish government would not do anything to jeopardize the chances of possible EU membership. This is an opportunity [for them] to show Turkey's independence while at the same time showing its willingness to cooperate."

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell visits Ankara on 4 December, and his presence may provide the occasion for the Turks to reveal more about the EU deal. Powell and other U.S. officials have been pressuring Ankara to allow the EU full access to the NATO assets -- largely because Washington is anxious to avoid any "distancing" of EU countries from the tried and tested Western alliance.

A denial of NATO assets would mean that the EU Military Committee would have to create its own structures parallel to NATO, thereby bringing into existence a certain "distance" between the two, and even a suggestion of "decoupling."

The chief of the EU's military staff, German General Reiner Schuwirth, has expressed frustration about the row over assets, saying the EU wants inter-operability with NATO as a priority. In comments reported in "European Voice" on 15 November, Schuwirth says that the new rapid-reaction force runs the risk of a "deep credibility gap." He points to deficiencies in strategic air transportation, intelligence-gathering, and command and control lines.

Some analysts say it is the EU's preoccupation with such issues that could lead eventually to a gap developing between NATO and the EU. Daniel Keohane, a senior analyst with the Center for European Reform in London, suggests that if the two entities pursue different military priorities, they may eventually come to view things differently: "What many people are worried about is the idea of operational and strategic divergence between the EU and NATO -- meaning that if they are preparing for very different types of operations and contingencies, the EU may have to end up developing its own operational capabilities in any case."

The rapid-reaction force was originally conceived to carry out the so-called Petersberg tasks -- meaning a range of milder duties such as peacekeeping and disaster relief. But as Keohane points out, there is already a debate in the EU as to whether this role is adequate following the terrorist attacks of 11 September, or whether it should be expanded to include antiterrorist tasks: "All those ideas will have to be managed carefully, and unless the EU and NATO work very hard at keeping cooperation in terms of future planning, as well as the use of assets, it's going to be difficult, I think, to prevent a strategic divergence."

In any event, the EU rapid-reaction force is about to be born, whatever the eventual consequences. Current EU president Belgium says it intends to announce the force operational on a limited basis at the EU summit at Laeken, near Brussels, on 14-15 December.