Friday, August 06, 2004

Cloud cuckoo land

It seems that there are no limits to the lengths Europhiles will go to promote their beloved European Union. A case in point is Mark Seddon, editor of the Labour Tribune magazine, member of Labour’s NEC, student of international relations and one-time friend of members of the PLO, the ANC and SWAPO.

With the humanitarian crisis boiling over in Sudan, the resolution of which is taxing many minds, Seddon seizes the opportunity to tell the EU to speed up the creation of its rapid reaction force.

"It was in order to prevent such appalling acts that the European Union devised the idea for its own rapid reaction force, which could be quickly sent to areas of conflict or disaster", he writes. "It is time to stop merely talking about such a force and start organising one".

To justify himself, he adds, "Those opposed to the EU having a military capability argue that this should remain the preserve of individual nations. But there is strength and moral authority in numbers". He then concludes that: "It is the responsibility of the EU, Africa and the international community to stop the genocide in Darfur and rebuild a war-ravaged country".

Perhaps before putting pen to paper – or finger to keyboard – Seddon should have read the latest edition of the New Statesman, which observed that Sudan is a country 35 times larger than Sierra Leone, which needed 17,000 UN troops to pacify it. "Do the interventionists propose to send 600,000 troops to Sudan?", it asks.

And therein lies the rub. Seddon glibly writes about it being "time to stop merely talking about such a force and start organising one", as if it merely requires someone to put all the pieces together and put it into action.

But, as my colleague pointed out in her piece on this Blog at the end of June, military capability does not come without a cost. The EU is not at all short of organisation, and is only too ready to create yet another structure, or launch another inter-continental ballistic committee, but when it comes to coughing up the readies, the colleagues are often remarkably silent.

The problem, she wrote, is that Europe has no troops. When NATO’s Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer called Afghanistan NATO's number one priority, he had to go round the member states with a begging bowl, pleading for manpower. And it is not only troops – as yet EU does not have the military heavy-lift capability, the satellite communication infrastructure, the logistics element to keep large numbers of troops in the field, nor even the command and control systems.

Providing these is not at this stage a matter of organisation. It is one of money, and there is no evidence that any of the member states are either willing or able to commit the funds necessary to put the show on the road.

But even if some miracle were to happen, and the force materialised, how would the EU use it, and under what circumstances? This is the EU that insisted on the US seeking a UN resolution before it went into Iraq. Would the EU be prepared to commit forces to Sudan without authorisation from the UN? And would it get it, considering that China and Russia – with seats on the Security Council – would most likely veto military intervention?

In any case, would even the EU member states be able to agree amongst themselves that they should commit military forces, and would they be able to agree the mission and the rules of engagement?

Quite what the solution is in Sudan, and whether we will be able to stop an even greater tragedy unfolding is debatable – and the signs are not hopeful – but one thing is certain. Neither now or any time in the foreseeable future will an EU rapid reaction force be an option. For Mr Seddon to suggest that it could be merely demonstrates that he, like so many of his fellow travellers, is living in cloud cuckoo land.

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