A conference on European security has opened in Berlin. It's focusing on ways to effectively strengthen European defense efforts with a view to improving joint missions in crisis areas on the continent and elsewhere.
German and French NATO peacekeepers in Bosnia
The two-day conference in Berlin has drawn high-ranking politicians, NATO officials and EU defense experts and aims to highlight efforts to further harmonize defense cooperation within the North Atlantic Alliance and the EU's own defense initiatives.
It's being held at a time when both the EU and NATO are in the process of building up rapid reaction forces, or battle groups, as European strategists prefer to call them. Both organizations are potentially drawing upon the same pools of soldiers which indicates that rivalry can never be ruled out.
But in a bid to further heal transatlantic relations after the controversy over the US-led war in Iraq, assurances are being heard ever so often that the EU’s own security efforts are invariably intended to complement -- not duplicate or rival --NATO.
German Defense Minister Peter Struck
"It would be totally wrong to view the development of European defense capabilities separately from advances within NATO," said Germany's Social Democrat Defense Minister, Peter Struck (photo). He added that both NATO and the European Union are currently making efforts to be better prepared for out-of-area missions in a bid to adapt to a fast changing security environment.
"NATO must be open to reform"
There can be no doubt whatsoever that in future NATO has to be the place where dialogue on transatlantic security strategies must be intensified, Struck added. "The alliance has to be open for reform," Struck added.
This is what German chancellor Gerhard Schröder demanded at a recent security conference in Munich, and his words are being taken seriously by NATO leaders.
Struck’s message to the conference was taken up by Alessandro Minuto Rizzo, deputy secretary-general of NATO. He made it clear that it had been wrong to try and sweep different threat perception levels on both sides of the Atlantic under the carpet and demanded that a fresh initiative be made to debate security strategies more openly within NATO.
German NATO troops in Afghanistan
"We need to understand that NATO is not only a forum for action. We must also understand that it’s a forum for debate," said Minuto Rizzo. "During the Iraq controversy, NATO was manifestly under-utilized as a consultative forum, and we paid a high price for that," he said. "I’m confident that we’ve learned our lesson. If we want to preserve NATO as a central framework for effective multilateralism, we must engage in multilateral debate."
Focus on rapid response forces
Defense minister Struck said it would be in the interest of all to see the European Union reinforce its own military capabilities alongside those of NATO.
A Congolese boy points as he speak to a French soldier, Thursday, June 19, 2003 during a foot patrol on the outskirts of Bunia, Congo.
He pointed to the EU’s successful peace-keeping operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina and parts of Africa. He announced that Germany would be willing to contribute 50 military observers to the 250-strong EU contingent to become active in Sudan soon.
The chairman of NATO’s military committee, General Harald Kujat, himself German, left Mr Struck’s remarks uncommented and focused on the capabilities of NATO’s future rapid response forces instead.
"A great proportion of the alliance’s forces will need to be deployable well away from their own territories and have the flexibility to switch rapidly between war fighting and peace keeping," Kujat said. "Future forces must be more capable of operating within a networked environment. There will be a greater need for specialist skills in areas such as engineering, communications, special operations, civil-military cooperation, logistics, medical services and intelligence."
More money needed
Several speakers complained about EU defense programs being gravely underfinanced.
They noted that the 16 European NATO member countries together currently spend only $200 million on defense capabilities annually -- which amounts to only half of the US defense budget.