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Turf wars

Posted by Richard Friday, June 10, 2005

As the situation in Darfur continues to deteriorate, western European countries have finally decided on some more tangible help to the region, agreeing to fund and organise a humanitarian airlift. But, so sooner had the scheme been agreed in principle, it became bogged down in a "turf war" between the EU and Nato.

According to a report in The Independent today, the two parties have failed to resolve their dispute and the airlift will now be co-ordinated from two different centres in Europe.

The problem started several weeks ago when France insisted that the operation should be co-ordinated from one EU base in Eindhoven in the Netherlands - which is also used by Nato planners. But this was rejected by the United States and an impass ensued.

Now, countries contributing to the airlift will chose whether they want to have their operations planned from Eindhoven under an EU banner or from Nato's military planning headquarters at Mons in Belgium. "Since we were not going to do the operation together, it was not worth moving people from Mons to Eindhoven if they were not even going to sit together," one diplomat said yesterday.

France has offered support through the EU arm of the operation, while Germany says it is unclear whether its operation will be under a Nato or EU flag. The UK, typically sitting on the fence, said that it plans to use both.

Although the dispute has thus been resolved – albeit in a messy fashion – it sets an uncomfortable precedent for future operations. Despite the honeyed assurances that the EU planning arm was to be "complementary" to Nato, the reality is clearly that it is – and was always intended to be – a rival.

And if the rivalry has has such an impact on a humanitarian mission, where the providers have the initiative, the prospect of the two organisations working effectively in a shooting war seem remote. A separate EU military indentity was always a bad idea, and now the worst fears look like being realised.