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A Hard-Hitting European Defense? (December 28, 1999)

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An Auxiliary Force for Peripheral Incidents Is Not What Is Needed

Above all, America is looking for relief in the near future in the form of significant military participation by European partners in operations in support of international security, also outside of Europe. Washington wants a European force at its side in crisis situations, not a marginal auxiliary force for peripheral incidents and lighter tasks. As long as the European NATO partners, who have sixty percent of the American defense budget at their disposal and more troops than the United States has serving under its flag worldwide, can only muster about ten to twenty percent of the operative capability of the US armed forces in combat operations; as long as American combat planes have to fly eighty-five to ninety percent of all air attacks, as they did over Serbia/Kosovo in 1999; as long as the United States has to supply NATO with ninety percent of its technical systems for strategic reconnaissance, airspace control, satellite communication, ground detection and data processing (as it did for IFOR/SFOR in Bosnia in 1995-98); as long as none of that changes, an approximate “balance” of military engagement will not be possible either inside or outside NATO.

But when French Minister of Defense [Alain] Richard speaks of a “long-term balance” in the NATO alliance as a result of the military strengthening of the EU in its role as “independent actor on the international stage,” then it is important to elaborate with a sentence of this sort: it is a matter of concentrating forces on the hard tasks, not the easy ones. Here is the key to European response capability in serious crises, ones with great potential for escalation and a high risk of conflict, like the crisis in Yugoslavia in 1991-92, when both Europe and the United States shied away from military confrontation, allowing the escalating conflict to take its own course until 1995.

Many European countries, including almost all of the EU states (including Germany starting in 1994), and above all France and Britain (each of which had a contingent of around 10,000 troops), participated in the virtually defenseless UN protection force in Bosnia, which was mostly under the command of European generals. Most of the European contingents – the French one, for example – did not even have armored transport helicopters for troop movements across the battlefield. Therefore, they could not reach Srebrenica, Tuzla, or Gorazde because they could not stand up against Serbia’s ground-based anti-aircraft operations. As long as the UN failed to permit air attacks, Western air supremacy and strike fighters could not be used to advantage. Light European ground troops would not have been capable of helping here, to say nothing of the offensives in which the Croats and Bosnians dealt the Bosnian Serbs their first serious defeats in the summer of 1995 and brought about the strategic turning point in the Bosnian war, which paved the way for the later NATO intervention. Even the NATO air force could not have accomplished this on its own in the eleven days of air raids on Serbian targets in Bosnia.

Fifty to sixty thousand soldiers in active crisis management operations require just as many reserve troops to relieve them after four to six months, thus a deployment force of at least 120,000 troops is necessary. Additionally, the appropriate means of transportation are also needed, as well as flexible logistics for sustained support by air and sea. For its planned Rapid Reaction Force, the EU partners would have to build up joint supply depots and a central logistics command, joint budget resources, and transport capacities with a technical division of labor. It would be necessary to standardize equipment and munitions for unrestricted interoperability, especially since 300 to 500 combat planes are planned. Without NATO standardization, no interoperability will be possible. Technological and logistical interfaces with the US armed forces have to be created and maintained, if only to prevent the previously attained NATO standardization in Europe from deteriorating further. This is where action is demanded especially from France, which still remains outside of NATO military cooperation. If Sweden, Finland, Austria, and Ireland want to participate militarily in the EU, then they have to align themselves and adapt to a broader NATO framework for operational procedures, standardization of equipment, interoperability of troops, and compatible command structures, as is already being attempted in the SFOR in Bosnia and the KFOR in Kosovo to some extent.

The EU needs intervention forces that can take action in a conflict situation, without American participation and without the use of the large NATO apparatus, if need be. Less critical military missions could then be carried out with fewer military means as long as the deterring force remains in reserve, visibly ready for deployment. The French proverb applies here: “He who can do more, can do less.” That is the only way for Europeans to really satisfy the demand placed upon them by NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson in December 1999 in Brussels, namely the demand that they “correct the military imbalance vis-à-vis the United States.” But Washington’s pressing demands in Brussels for the installation of a NATO missile-defense system for Europe, in order to shield against the growing threat of missile attacks (from the Middle East, for example, which the North Atlantic already identified as a new risk back in November 1991) must finally be taken seriously by the European members of NATO, that is from the EU partners. This is not happening, even after the foreign ministers’ conference in Brussels.

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