Tuesday, June 29, 2004

You mean we have to spend money on defence?

Yesterday’s unexpected hand-over of power to the Iraqi government took many by surprise, not least the BBC, the EU, France and Germany. As the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, Paul Bremer, presented the legal documents, formally transferring power to new Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, the Europeans muttered comments about it being an important occasion.

Spare a thought for the French and the German leaders in Istanbul. What were they supposed to say? No, you cannot hand over power to a bunch of Iraqis? Or, goodness me, why have you not consulted us? Nothing really fits.

Then the Americans did something else that had been demanded from them for some time: they asked NATO to shoulder some of the responsibilities in Iraq. There had been similar requests in the past but they had led to nothing. Now, however, NATO was being asked to provide training for the new Iraqi forces.

The allies agreed, stipulating that this would not mean that they will have to send forces to Iraq. How they will train anyone without sending forces remains a mystery.

As the Wall Street Journal Europe put it:

Details of the training operation remained vague yesteday, and they could take days or weeks to be worked out. An assessment will have to be made of Iraq’s needs and NATO partmers will have to decide how to meet them.
Another fact emerged during the Istanbul Summit. It seems that despite the much-vaunted NATO involvement in the operation in Afghanistan (even France maintains that it supports the war there though not in Iraq) there has been very little practical assistance. Five "provincial reconstruction teams" have been promised months ago but never delivered.

NATO’s Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer calls Afghanistan NATO's number one priority but there is little evidence that this has sunk in. He himself has angrily said that it was not dignified for the Secretary-Geneal to keep going round the member states with a begging bowl, pleading for a helicopter here or another division there. There are, it seems, 6,500 NATO troops in the safety of Kabul. The rest of the fighting is being done by 20,000 American led troops outside the Alliance’s structure.

Because of the precarious security situation the election scheduled for June has been postponed to September. Presumably, the Iraqis are hoping that they will not have to rely on the once-mighty North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The problem is that Europe has no troops. This has serious implications for the much paraded European security policy, whose aim has always been to separate the Europeans from the Americans. In 1998 at the 50th anniversary of NATO, it was agreed that the Europeans will develop their side of the Alliance in order to undertake some missions separately.

This agreement was interpreted differently by the Americans and the Europeans, particularly the French. The Americans thought that there ought to be a greater input of fighting forces by the European allies but there was no need to duplicate structures.

This was not the EU’s view. Anxious to build up the various foreign and security structures and organizations that it felt were necessary to what it is still hoping to be, a state, it did exactly the opposite of what was agreed.

Military and political committees were put together; commanders appointed; centres and headquarters established. But no more money went on defence. Germany cannot provide more than about 7,500 non-fighting troops in Afghanistan, Kosovo and Bosnia. France deploys about 15,000 of her 350,000 troops abroad. Of these 700 serve in Afghanistan and 4,000 in Côte d’Ivoire, where their exact purpose is unclear. Presumably they are there to prove that France abhors imperialism and will have no truck with non-UN sanctioned operations. (Woops, nobody sanctioned that one. Well, you can’t have everything.)

Britain, supposedly, remains a military power but her forces are seriously overstretched and every week brings news of more cut-backs on defence. There are now very worrying problems about turn-over, length of tours of duty and, above all, training. Never mind that dinner at Granita, the PM and his Chancellor should somehow sort out the fact that troops cannot be merrily committed all over the world if there is no money to keep them, train them, equip them.

So, what precisely is going to happen with the European security policy? Having undermined NATO partly by manipulation of opinion and partly by a refusal to play a full part, what will the EU's governments do? Will they carry on playing military games, setting up structures, awarding titles, creating administrative entities and hope that the Americans will come in to save their bacon as they did, eventually, in former Yugoslavia? They may not do that again.

Or will the EU simply "abolish" war, as it has "abolished" so many other things: national feelings, economic laws, and so on? Undoubtedly wars happen in unhygienic places and are potentially dangerous. Perhaps the EU's defence and security policy should be handed over the health and safety inspectors, who will serve "prohibition notices" on the combatants and bring everything to a halt.

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