The beginning of the end for NATO: a European cooperative defense force emerges from the EU. Thanks, George W., for bringing us back to Orwell's 1984.
Paris and Berlin prepare alliance to rival Nato
EUROPE'S self-inflicted wounds over Iraq will be on display tomorrow, when the leaders of France and Germany — dubbed the "Axis of Weasels" in America — start to try to lay the groundwork for a European Union military alliance that would compete with Nato.
At a meeting in Brussels with the Prime Ministers of Belgium and Luxembourg, President Chirac and Gerhard Schröder, the German Chancellor, want to clear the way for a common European defence system that would start with a core of volunteer states.
Although the Germans have qualms about a confrontation with Nato, the French are not hiding their aim to achieve their long-standing goal of unhitching the United States from European defence. This has become more pressing with the reported plans of the US to punish France for its stand on the war in Iraq by excluding it from Nato decision-making.
Last night, however, Tony Blair gave warning to M Chirac against placing Europe as a rival to the United States, calling such a move "destabilising". In an interview with the Financial Times, he said: "I am not really interested in talk about punishing countries, but I think there is an issue that we have to resolve here between America and Europe and within Europe about Europe's attitutde towards the transatlantic alliance.
"I don't want Europe setting itself up in opposition to America. I think it will be dangerous and destabilising."
The mechanism for founding what would be a unified EU military force was tabled last week without much fanfare by the chiefs of the convention that is drafting a new EU constitution. The arrangement, akin to the foundation of monetary union, would be far more ambitious than the existing European security and defence policy that was launched by Britain and France in 1998. That policy, which includes a rapid reaction force, is limited to humanitarian, peacekeeping and crisis management in co-operation with Nato.
Although Guy Verhofstadt, the Belgian Prime Minister, proposed the mini-summit months ago, London and other EU capitals view the Brussels initiative as akin to provocation by the four most active opponents of American policy over Iraq.
Despite denials from Paris and Berlin, the session looks like a manoeuvre by French-led "old Europe" against the pro-Atlantic axis, led by Britain and Spain and featuring new EU states, which Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, called "new Europe".
Britain, which has the EU's most powerful Armed Forces, was not invited. Nor were the leaders of the EU's other main pro-Atlantic states — Spain, Italy and the Netherlands.
Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, said that the Brussels meeting "risks sending a message of division about the the creation of a defence policy separate from Nato". Britain was adamant that the EU's present security arrangement had nothing to do with a common defence, which was the domain of Nato, Mr Hoon told a French newspaper.
Britain is especially opposed to the French-backed idea of creating an EU military general staff, but it supports the view, shared by France and the others, that the EU needs to raise defence spending and to create a centralised arms agency, which would avoid duplication and help competition with the American defence industry.
While Europe's split over Iraq has given impetus to the defence initiative, the project has been looming since the 1950s and in particular since President de Gaulle took France out of the Nato military structure in 1967. Differences over autonomy from Nato were buried and not resolved after M Chirac and Tony Blair launched their security initiative in St Malo in 1998.
The confrontation with the United States over Iraq was seen by M Chirac and his allies as a coming-of-age test that the expanding Union had failed. To become a real power, the EU must, in their eyes, define itself as a "balance" against the United States. An independent defence force is a primary condition for confirming Europe's identity as more than an economic bloc, they say.
Extending the defence concept over the weekend, Michele Alliot-Marie, the French Defence Minister who was visiting Moscow, sought to involve Russia, the ally of France and Germany in the anti-war front over Iraq, saying that "Russia should be associated with the planning work that we are carrying out".
Britain and other opponents of the plan point out that even with French power, the proposed four-nation core marshals only 35 per cent of EU defence spending. Britain is likely to oppose inclusion in the new constitution of the machinery for creating a defence alliance.
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