It seems incredible that we should have to turn to a US-based specialist defence journal to learn of developments which might massively affect our own defence policy, but that is how it is now.
Thus we learn from DefenseNews that the UK presidency is setting up discussions which could lead to crucial changes on the deployment of the European Rapid Reaction Force, short-cutting existing procedures and possibly allowing Javier Solana to make the decision to deploy troops.
The discussions are confronting the obvious problem with rapid reaction forces – that while the mechanics of deploying troops may be rapid, the political decision-making process is often very slow, so that the time between perception of a problem and the actual arrival of forces on the ground may be quite lengthy.
That applies particularly to the EU, with the problems of securing agreement from 25 member states, reflected by an EU official who told DefenseNews, "The whole process has become a huge source of exasperation for many of us. We waste far too much time coordinating [diplomatic] dispatches, expert meetings and formal or informal emergency political consultations — not to mention the need to consult with all the international parties involved — that it takes months just to get the internal political OK. It's got to change or we'll be incapable of responding flexibly to sudden crises and humanitarian emergencies."
That is why defence ministers from the EU member states are being asked to discuss changes to the approval process and the job of injecting speed and flexibility into the council’s decision-making machinery belongs to Javier Solana. In late October, he received approval to examine how to speed up the process and it is his report that may be discussed in December.
Meanwhile, Finland, which has considerable reservations about the militarisation of the EU, has run into trouble with its own parliament, which has rejected a law giving the president sole power to decide on troop deployments as part of European military operations.
Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen announced the withdrawal of the bill after its rejection by the parliamentary committee on constitutional affairs. He said a new version of the bill will soon be presented to the committee. The text would have allowed only President Tarja Halonen or the Army chief to decide on the deployment of troops as part of the European Union’s planned rapid-reaction force.
Parliament said the bill contravened the Finnish constitution, changed in 2000, which confers responsibilities over European affairs to the prime minister and government, in consultation with the president, thus underlining the central fact that to give the president sole right, effectively, to go to war, would undermine democracy.
Interestingly, this may impact on Clare Short's efforts to remove the Royal Prerogative powers from the prime minister, which allow him to commit the nation to war without parliamentary approval. If the deployment of the ERRF is streamlined to the extent that Javier Solana or his successor can order our troops into battle, it is not Royal Prerogative that will be the problem, but EU Prerogative.