EU warned against duplicating, competing with NATO
( 2003-12-02 11:19) (Agencies)
US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld expressed confidence that an EU bid to do its own military planning will be worked out in a way that will neither compete with NATO nor duplicate its capabilities.
European defense ministers gave strong assurances here that nothing they do will undermine the Atlantic alliance, and both Rumsfeld and NATO Secretary General George Robertson said that the EU had not yet firmly agreed on a course of action.
"I am 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 told reporters here after meeting with NATO defense ministers.
Britain, France and Germany were reported to have reached an agreement at a European Union foreign ministers meeting Naples Friday to go ahead with plans for an independent planning unit while reaffirming NATO as the main pillar of European security.
"This is in no way in competition with NATO or SHAPE. Rather, it is a complement," Germany Defense Minister Peter Struck told reporters, referring to the acronym for NATO's military headquarters in Mons outside Brussels.
The United States in the past has sharply objected to EU operational military planning outside NATO on grounds that it would duplicate NATO planning capabilities and open competition between them for commonly held military resources.
The issue dominated a meeting that also was noteworthy for opening discussion within the alliance of the possibility of a larger NATO role in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
"We also discussed the possibility NATO might take over military operations in Afghanistan," he said.
The United States currently leads an 11,500-strong coalition force there dedicated to combating resistance by remnants of the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
Since August, NATO has lead a separate 5,700-strong international peacekeeping force in Kabul and has committed to expanding it beyond the capital.
A larger NATO role would help the US military weather the stresses of long and dangerous military operations in both countries.
At the same time, NATO agreed Monday to slash the size of the NATO force in Bosnia from 12,000 to 7,000 by March.
That decision is to be a step in the direction of the expected EU takeover of the Bosnia mission, which could be on the ground by the end of next year, diplomats say.
Rumsfeld's restrained response to the EU initiative contrasted with Washington's past public opposition to such a move.
Both Rumsfeld and Robertson alluded to the misgivings, however.
"Our policy is very clear: that we strongly support NATO as the primary forum for transatlantic defense. We support ESDP that is NATO friendly," Rumsfeld said. ESDP stands for European Security and Defense Program, the rubric under which European allies have sought to carve out a distinct defense policy.
Rumsfeld said NATO had worked hard to develop arrangements that would allow the EU to draw on NATO resources and planning capabilities for any EU mission that the alliance as a whole opted out of.
Robertson said Europe should give priority to acquiring military capabilities -- not a "handful of operational planners, when a thousand operational planners are available in SHAPE without condition and without reservation to the European Union."
However, he said, "Everyone has made absolutely clear that they are not going to do anything that is going to undermine NATO."
"And I can't imagine anything being agreed by Prime Minister (Tony) Blair in London that would undermine the integrity and the strength, and the preeminence of NATO as a security organization," he said.
Rumsfeld said the issue was being dealt with at the highest levels of government -- from defense ministers to prime ministers.
A NATO official said alliance foreign ministers would continue those discussions when they meet here Thursday and Friday.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer defended the EU plans in a speech at Bruges, Belgium.
"Only a weak, not a strong European pillar would pose a threat to NATO," he said. "All we want is complementarity, not competition."
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