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

The wars in the former Yugoslavia called European defense capability into question. In the following article, Lothar Rühl, former undersecretary of state in the Federal Ministry of Defense, analyzes the weaknesses of European defense and security policy. He calls for the modernization of the European armed forces, with the goal being to create a European defense force capable of undertaking strategic military operations in the future – both in cooperation with the United States and independently.

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The Forces Must Be Concentrated
A “NATO-light”-type Eurocorps or relief for America in international crises through European strike capability?

The most recent EU resolutions and the rough plans for setting up a European action force of 50,000 to 60,000 troops have been officially acknowledged as a “step in the right direction” in the military capability of Europe. This is also happening at NATO in Brussels and in Washington. But does the course initiated in 1999 correspond with the realities within the alliance and on Europe’s high-risk peripheries? Will the future European Rapid Reaction Force suffice when it comes to controlling major crises and, in the event of an escalation, ending higher-intensity armed conflicts? How should this force work together with American armed forces on an operative level if European actions within the limits of the Western European Union’s 1992 “Petersberg Tasks,” which, according to the EU resolutions of 1999, set the framework for such missions and set the standards for the capabilities of EU armed forces, prove insufficient – in other words, if NATO operations with U.S. forces were to become necessary, like in Bosnia and Kosovo?

The EU partners will have to answer these sorts of questions about the utility of their plans as NATO allies. For their armed forces must be deployable within the alliance and operationally compatible with US armed forces, not only within Europe, but also outside of Europe at greater distances from their home bases, so they can be used effectively and capable of shouldering a share of the burden commensurate with Europe’s significance within NATO.

Shortly after the EU summit conference in Helsinki, American worries, doubts, and reservations became apparent once again: What path is Europe really pursuing? And where will it lead the EU in the course of its future enlargements? Will the EU muster the strength and military means necessary to cover the expanded Eastern European economic region, which still needs to be organized politically? This question must be of concern to Washington because in an emergency American strength will have to compensate for European deficits. Deputy Secretary of State [Strobe] Talbott reminded the European NATO partners of this fact in mid-December in Brussels. The American side pushed all the more strongly to ensure that the scarce resources for building up EU military capabilities will not be taken from NATO allotments. The NATO authorities in Brussels are also worried because the Baltic states of northeastern Europe lie outside of NATO but are striving to join the alliance, as are, thus far, seven Balkan countries, three of which were directly affected by the Kosovo war as neighboring countries. Northern Europe remains a transitional zone of passage into the Russian sphere of influence; and in the southeast, Turkey, a strategic ally of America on the border between Europe and Asia, will not become an EU member in the foreseeable future. The Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe, in any case, will expand the EU’s political sphere of responsibility toward Ukraine and the Black Sea, whereby the Caucasus, too, will creep into the horizon of Western Europe, broadening the friction zone with Russia from the North Sea to the Black Sea. But how could an effective “European defense” or even just military crisis-management in the southeast or the eastern Mediterranean towards the Levant become a reality without the active participation of Turkey? Will Europe call on the US for more military support for its security in the future, because its own forces are becoming increasingly incapable of supporting European ambitions, or can the EU ease the United States’ military burden within NATO?

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