“There are people on both sides of the conflict there interested only in warring with each other again. We have to prevent them. If they understand only the language of force, then perhaps force will be useful.”President Bush, that incredibly uncouth warmonger? Donald Rumsfeld, that incredibly clever warmonger? Nope. Tony Blair, the undecided warmonger? Uh-uh. Any other leader of the 30 odd forces that are in Afghanistan and Iraq? Wrong again.
It was Michele Alliot-Marie, Defence Minister of that famously scrupulous, diplomatic and peace-loving country, France, in a conversation with the Wall Street Journal Europe. The people whose heads she was intending to knock together were the Ivorians.
As our readers will recall, France intervened in the Ivory Coast, intending to bring the government and the northern Muslim rebels together and sort the whole mess out. The mess remains resolutely unsorted, the violence has become worse, the government has accused the French of siding with the rebels, some French soldiers have been killed, the Ivorian air force destroyed and there are anti-French and generally anti-European riots in the capital and in Abidjan. A huge success, in other words.
Ms Alliot-Marie was talking about the immediate (well, almost immediate) appearance of a sizeable EU armed force, that will take its place beside that of the United States as an equal and will … well, what? Apparently it will rush around the world and sort problems out. Really? Have we not always been told that “Europeans” did not believe in using force and did not see matters in black and white or right and wrong, unlike the crude Americans (and their allies, let us not forget) but in shades of grey and sophisticated nuances?
Clearly, this is going to be a non-aggressive, nuanced kind of military force, except when it needs to sort out problems, when it will impose peaceful solutions by using NATO weapons, which just happen to be largely American.
Actually Mme MAM (as she is known in France) seems to have thought of that and she seems to have realized that the European force has been something of a joke on the international scene. Apparently, Donald Rumsfeld, has been sceptical. According to Mme MAM:
“This is what I’ve had a bit of difficulty getting Donald Rumsfeld to understand when I talked to him. For him, because we’ve been talking about European defence for 10 years, he says for 10 years it has been incapable of existing. And I say no, it’s now that it’s beginning to exist.”Well, on paper, anyway. There are many plans for creating a European force and there are many structures in place to ensure that NATO ceases to function. But, to be fair to Mr Rumsfeld, he may have thought of the fiasco of the continuing war in Yugoslavia that was eventually brought to some sort of a conclusion by the Americans with British and some European help.
He may have recalled the 300 Eurocorps troops that went to Afghanistan and pleaded with the Canadians to stay on, as they could not cope. He may have heard something of the difficulties the NATO Secretary-General had when he tried to get the other members to contribute to the security of the Afghani elections, which had been described as top priority.
He may know how much money Europeans spend on defence and the way the British are intending to cut back on their forces in order to contribute to completely unnecessary and second-rate European electronic toys. And he may realize that, although, France is increasing its defence spending (not by much) its aim is to further its own plans, some of which verge on the neo-imperialist.
So far, the European force has had a small peacekeeping mission in Macedonia and a three-month mission in DR Congo, where most of the peacekeeping troops were French and where they spent their whole time holed up in the heavily guarded barracks, because it was too dangerous outside. What the purpose of the mission was, nobody could quite understand, but it was a famous mission.
Next month the EU is scheduled to take over peacekeeping duties in Bosnia and Herzegovina and problems have already surfaced. In the first place, it is not clear that there will be 7,900 troops to send in. In the second place, the Bosnians remember the EU’s role in their fight for independence – firmly on the side of Milosevic’s Serbia.
According to Mme MAM, taking over in Kosovo is, at the moment, too ambitious, as “the situation is too volatile and the potential for violence too great”. Surely the French army could use the experience it has gained recently in Africa.
But things are improving, according to Ms Alliot-Marie. Next year there will be a 1,500 troop unit of rapid reaction force. Other sources say that Defence Ministers who will meet on Monday will commit 165,000 troops for a series of battle groups to be deployed within 10 days for a period of up to four months.
According to these sources, the groups will be operational by 2007, so there seems to be some disagreement on the subject, which may cause Mr Rumsfeld to display one of his famous Cheshire cat grins. Or he may be too bored with the whole subject, having the reform of the American military on his mind.
Each group will have a lead country in command and they will work under a UN mandate – something Mme MAM did not emphasise in her interview. Sent to hotspots like DR Congo (see above) they will, presumably, become the world’s police force in a somewhat inadequate manner.
The other aspect of it all that pleases the French Defence Minister is the number of joint projects. She does not mention that France has pulled out of several of them and is working on her own version of both the Eurofighter and the FRES programme. The two she does refer to are the production of Airbus A4000M troop transporters and our old favourite the Galileo satellite communication system.
I wonder if President Chirac had time between his nasty and pompous statements to tell Prime Minister Blair that as far as the French are concerned, Galileo is a military system.