Changing the Balance of European Military Force

The Iraqi war has not only sown serious contradictions between the US, France and Germany; the war has revived the idea of forming European direct action troops to reduce dependence of the European Union on the US in solving military and political issues

Certainly, nobody has ever said that the Old Europe is forming some kind of counterbalance to NATO, the organization where the US has always had its say. However, when French President Jacques Chirac spoke about the "fundamental nature of the strategic transatlantic partnership", he meant that creation of European direct action troops was not an anti-American action. But many experts still insisted that another conflict was inevitable between the US and its opponents.

On April 29, the leaders of four European nations - France, Germany, Belgium and Luxemburg -agreed to create the united command center of direct action troops. A joint statement issued by the leaders said: "With a view to improving the command and management means employed by the European Union and NATO, the defense ministers of the four countries (France, Germany, Belgium, Luxemburg) will take measures to set up headquarters of multinational direct action troops before the end of 2004 for realization of joint operations. The headquarters are to be formed on the basis of the present-day command centers of direct action troops."A site meant as headquarters was said to be the Brussels suburb of Tervuren. This emphasized the headquarters' inseparable connection with NATO headquarters.

As was expected, US reaction to the statement was extremely negative, which entailed negative opinions of Great Britain, Spain and Italy. Washington and its European allies started speaking about an emerging threat to NATO unity.

Even though the authors of the new initiative insisted it posed no threat to the alliance's unity but will help NATO in the solution of different issues, other sides either ignored the statements or rejected them. It is not ruled out that statements of French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin contributed much to that kind of attitude. He several times urged France's partners in the European Union to form a "strong Europe" as counterweight to the US. It was meant that European direct action troops with headquarters of their own must become a component of the counterweight.

But in half a year after that, no visible results have been achieved. On September 2, Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, the most ardent supporter of the idea of European direct action forces, declared that no doubts could arise in connection with the idea of the European military command center. However, in a month it unexpectedly emerged that the idea could be given up for lost. Last Tuesday, Belgian newspaper La Libre Belgique reported that Germany no longer wanted to support the idea of forming the European military command center as an alternative to NATO. An official spokesperson of the German government said Berlin supported "the idea of strengthening European support within the NATO limits."

What does it mean? Having lost Germany's support, France, Belgium and Luxemburg will rather also give up the idea of setting up a separate military command center. Even some time ago, the idea was not particularly popular. At the same time, it is too early to say that the very idea of forming European direct action troops of not less than 60 thousand people will be totally lost. The troops will obey NATO, which in its turn will mean the US will also have its control over the troops. So it is out of the question that any counterweight to Washington can be created.

Author`s name Olga Savka