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Europe

Diplomats See No European Threat to NATO

Confusion over plans by Great Britain, France and Germany to set up an EU defense planning structure independent of NATO has drawn strong criticism from a top U.S. diplomat, who called an emergency meeting Monday.

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European Union troops in the Congo, without NATO help.

U.S. and European Union diplomats apparently ended a transatlantic spat over proposed plans to set up a European military command center outside the NATO alliance.

After a meeting called by U.S. NATO Ambassador Nicholas Burns Monday, ambassadors and the NATO spokesman said all sides agreed that the European Union's military ambitions weren't a threat to NATO.

"We all agreed that no one is trying to damage NATO," spokesman Jamie Shea told reporters.

Until now, military action undertaken by EU countries has mostly been under the umbrella of NATO, which has the necessary planning and logistical network needed for big missions like those in Afghanistan or Bosnia.

But an informal agreement between the EU's three biggest members -- France, Germany and the UK -- to set up an EU planning structure independent of the transatlantic alliance has confused officials in Washington. The plans reignited concerns that the EU was striving to become a counterweight to the United States and wanted to make NATO redundant.

NATO Hauptquartier

NATO, Hauptquartier, Bruxelles,

Burns called the plans "the greatest threat to NATO" and called the emergency meeting of 19 NATO ambassadors on Monday to clear things up.

A stronger ally

That might be easier said than done. Europe's goal of establishing a common security and defense policy in the past year has been marked by division within the EU and has led to tension in the transatlantic alliance.

At a summit last April, Belgium, Germany, France and Luxembourg agreed to strengthen the European Union's military capabilities and set up a separate command structure in Tervuren, near Brussels. That conference angered a lot of pro-Iraq war U.S. allies like Spain and Great Britain in the European Union, who felt the four were trying to go their own way.

The U.S. accused the four countries of wanting to de-couple Europe from NATO. The summit participants countered that the goal was to make the EU a more effective ally, not a counterweight, to NATO.

The cold truth is that the European Union, featuring countries with few highly trained troops and low defense budgets, is a long away from providing any competition to the United States, defense experts say. Steps to strengthen the European defense industry and form a rapid reaction force that can be deployable anywhere in the world have only recently been taken by EU countries.

Europe still needs U.S. military

Europe remains very dependent on U.S. military capabilities and on NATO's logistic, transport and communication networks, but has varying visions of a command center for missions it takes on without U.S. help.

So far, there have been three different proposals: The Tervuren-based center proposed by the four countries, a plan by Italy to set up a virtual, computer-based planning center and a British

NATO-Botschafter Nicholas Burns NATO Hauptquartier

American Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns gestures while speaking during a television interview at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Monday, Feb. 10, 2003. France, Germany and Belgium blocked NATO efforts Monday to begin planning for possible Iraqi attacks against Turkey, deepening divisions in the alliance over the U.S.-led push to oust Saddam Hussein. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo) (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

proposal to set up an EU center within NATO headquarters in Belgium.

The European Union argues that such a center will enable it to undertake major peacekeeping missions in crisis regions the U.S. doesn't want to touch. A recent mission in the Congo, where a French-led EU force of 1,500 troops cooled tensions between rival tribes in the north of the country, is a prime example of that.

United States NATO officials counter that a cooperation agreement signed by NATO and the EU in Berlin this year already enables European countries to access NATO assets needed for such missions. They argue a separate planning structure would only endanger the transatlantic alliance at a time when it is undergoing a post-Cold War transformation.

Officials high up in the European Union, like the foreign policy chief Javier Solana, have sought to talk down the perceived transatlantic tension.

"This is nothing new," he said of differences within the EU. "The same thing happened a couple of years ago with the monetary union. Don't dramatize the whole situation."

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