Saturday, February 19, 2005

A question that deserves an answer

That speech from Schröder at the Munich security conference was bound to cause trouble, and indeed it has.

Exploding onto the front page of the The Telegraph is Bush's unequivocal rejection of "moves to boost EU military might" with the American president saying that there was no need for the Franco-German goal of forming an alternative superpower.

This was in an interview with The Daily Telegraph, his first with a British newspaper since his re-election last year. As did Rumsfeld at the time when the Schröder speech was read out, Bush has "pointedly rejected" the call by the German chancellor for a "high-level commission" to review the role of Nato, outside the framework of the Nato forum.

Bush has reaffirmed the importance of the North Atlantic treaty, saying that it "is a very important relationship as far as the United States is concerned. It is one that has worked in the past and will work in the future just so long as there is that strong commitment to Nato."

Bush also questions the idea of creating a unified Europe to balance America. "Why, when in fact we share values and goals?", he asks. "As opposed to counter-balancing each other, why don't we view this as a moment when we can move in a concerted fashion to achieve those goals?"

That rather shoots the fox, which we pointed up in our earlier post where, as was evident from the speech of Nick Witney, chief executive of the European Defence Agency, the talk was not of co-operation with the US through Nato but of "competition".

Just how far this has gone is highlighted by a piece by DefenseNews which yesterday reported that the EDA had taken another important organisational step in selecting an official to chair meetings of its national armaments directors. He will be Eero Lavonen - currently Finland's national armaments director – who will hold the post until at least mid-2006.

This means, says DefenseNews, that many of Europe's national arms chiefs will be meeting in two different forums in Europe: one for the European Union and one for Nato.

Crucially, Lavonen's task will be to work with national armaments directors and defence research directors in order to promote armaments co-operation and to co-ordinate development of defence capabilities for the planned 60,0000-strong EU rapid reaction force.

Responding to this development, a defence industry insider said, "It's going to be an interesting ballgame between Nato meetings and the EDA's, and I've got my money on the latter."

There can be no question now that the EU is powering ahead with its own defence identity. However, it is also clear that, with Bush's intervention, the divergence between support for Nato and developing an independent EU military capability has become an important fault line in the relationship between European states and the US.

To an extent also, it clarifies the "mood music" as Bush has now drawn the line. What a difference this makes from the woolly self-deception (one assumes it's self-deception) of UK defence secretary Hoon, who is struggling to convince MPs and the nations that all the EU defence initiatives are to be carried out within the framework of Nato.

That much was evident from Hoon’s speech to the House of Commons Standing Committee in June last year, when he was asking Parliament to approve the setting-up of the EDA. "The government are confident," he said, "that the agency will play a key role in improving the delivery of future European military capabilities. That is a key issue not only for European security and defence policy but for Nato."

It has taken a US president to show up the deception here. The EDA is a competitor to Nato, in effect the embryonic administrative and planning headquarters of a European Army. And Bush's question deserves an answer: "why don't we view this as a moment when we can move in a concerted fashion to achieve those goals?"

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