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Europe

NATO Mulls EU Defense Plans

EU defense ministers meeting in Brussels are trying to sell plans for a beefed up European military planning unit independent of NATO to a skeptical United States. But criticism from Washington remains subdued.

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U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has been highly critical of EU military plans in the past.

At a two-day meeting of NATO defense ministers, officials from the European Union defended their plans to create an independent military planning unit at the transatlantic alliance’s headquarters SHAPE in Mons, Belgium. German Defense Minister Peter Struck said the European proposals would complement NATO.

“I think the agreement with Britain and France should strengthen the European part of NATO,” Struck said according to Reuters news agency. “This can and must be in the interest of our American friends.”

Last week, Britain, France and Germany, Europe’s leading nations on defense matters, agreed on a plan to create an autonomous EU military planning unit in Brussels for the bloc which is expanding to 25 members next May. Washington has been highly critical of such moves in the past, fearing a waste of resources and a potential challenge to NATO.

But U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld held back his criticism while in Brussels, saying that Washington was being consulted by EU leaders about the plans. “I’m confident and hopeful that things will sort through in a way that we end up with an arrangement that is not duplicative or competitive,” he said.

America irked in the past

NATO Hauptquartier

NATO headquarters

The United States was furious over plans put forward by Germany, France, Belgium and Luxembourg this spring to launch a completely separate EU military planning unit, which it believed would compromise the role of NATO.

But Britain convinced its European partners to scale back the plans to have a planning cell at NATO’s SHAPE headquarters. From there, EU military planners would, with the alliance's backing, draw on NATO assets -- notably transport planes, satellite intelligence and the alliance's communications network -- for peacekeeping missions.

NATO builds up and reduces forces

Besides mulling the implications of the EU’s plans, NATO officials also launched a new anti-terror battalion to protect against chemical, biological and nuclear attacks. The unit will be able to undertake missions of up to six months and troops could be ready for deployment within five days. Around 500 soldiers from 13 countries will be available for the new battalion.

They also agreed to reduce the number of troops involved in peacekeeping duties in Bosnia from 12,000 to 7,000 by this March. Eventually the EU is expected to take over the mission from NATO completely.

Despite an appeal from outgoing NATO Secretary-General George Robertson for greater involvement in Afghanistan, the 19 member nations of the alliance remained hesitant to commit more to its peacekeeping operations there. “The NATO governments must have the political will to station their forces in greater numbers and to use them than currently,” Robertson told a press conference. “We have to stay the course in Afghanistan as we have in the Balkans.”

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