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

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Far Short of the Necessary [Level of] Modernization

The preliminary joint plans of the chief EU and NATO partners are still far short of the necessary [level of] modernization and adjustment. It is not even certain that the planning is really moving in the “right direction.” The current budget and program plans in Germany, France, Italy, and Spain – to name only the major continental countries in the EU – still show no signs of a strengthening in terms of materials and weapons technology and thus show no signs of a qualitative strengthening. The French allocations for battle tanks and combat helicopters in recent budget years were roughly half of what had originally been planned for the period 1997 to 2002. The project for a German-French or European battle tank was just shelved in Paris. The costs of transitioning to a volunteer army have proven far higher than estimated. The obstacles to a lasting European capacity for satellite reconnaissance, and the evaluation thereof, have remained unchanged despite the French “Helios” satellites.

The implementation of the most recent EU agreements on “strategic reconnaissance” and “strategic air transportation” (which is also lacking) would require tens of billions of Euros, if the goal is to acquire new, modern systems, instead of leasing older, existing systems or sharing them with EU partners. Modern information and communications technology would need to be acquired jointly. The same applies for modern homing munitions and standoff weapons, which European warplanes urgently lacked in the Kosovo war, not to mention cruise missiles. Which munitions and weapons reserves should be jointly stockpiled for Europe in the future? Which European manufacturers should produce them? What sort of spare-parts management is being undertaken in Europe in the EU framework within NATO? What practical division of labor should be established between EU and NATO partners?

It must also be possible to deploy an EU Rapid Reaction Force, whether 50,000 or 60,000 strong, as an operative unit, should that ever become necessary. Two months’ preparation time is actually already too long, since crises can escalate more quickly and conflicts could already have ended within that time. In May 1999, it was estimated that it would take two to three months to ready larger units of American troops for offensive deployment in the Kosovo war; European troops were still not available in sufficient numbers (more than 40 percent of the British army had already been moved out for deployment). General [Wesley] Clark allotted “at least fifty percent of American ground troops” for a NATO land war to ensure the necessary operative capability.

That is Europe’s Achilles heel, which Washington has recognized: The development of weapons and information technology has already affected the equipment of individual soldiers (such as for night fighting), the structure of the combat groups, and reconnaissance and site detection in the field. In America, small and very small troop units are being conceived for extended-range engagement and operative autonomy (which really is a “military revolution” for the Pentagon). If the Europeans, with their meager funds and plethoric troop numbers, do not focus on this core issue, they will fall behind and lose their point of orientation and, with it, their chances for military relevance in future crises and conflicts. This is the true ante in the game, the real military challenge, less in a politically contrived “balance” with the United States within NATO or in an artificial “European autonomy” in crises. It can only become “strategic” if Western Europe upgrades its technology and curbs the size of its excessively large armed forces, with their out-dated equipment, and finds new structures for military service and the troops for powerful armies and air forces that can only be European. Are France and Britain, Spain, Italy, and Germany prepared to do that?

Source: Lothar Rühl, “Die Kräfte müssen konzentriert werden. Ein Eurokorps Machart ‘Nato light’ oder Entlastung für Amerika in internationalen Krisen durch europäische Schlagkraft?” [“The Forces Must Be Concentrated. A ‘NATO-light’-type Eurocorps or relief for America in international crises through European strike capability?”], Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, December 28, 1999, p. 9.

Translation: Allison Brown

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