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Last Updated: Friday, 14 October 2005, 11:46 GMT 12:46 UK
Challenges ahead for EU defence forces
By Paul Adams
BBC diplomatic correspondent

British troops perform a display at a meeting of European defence ministers in the UK
Critics say European defence has a long way to go
EU defence ministers, meeting informally in the UK on Thursday, congratulated themselves on a job well done in Bosnia-Hercegovina.

But critics warned that, when it comes to defence, Europe has yet to pull its weight.

Last year, Nato handed over its peacekeeping duties in Bosnia-Hercegovina to the European Union.

The move, marked by a ceremony in the capital Sarajevo, was hailed at the time as a sign of Europe's willingness - and increasing ability - to take on military challenges.

With 6,600 personnel, Eufor is the largest EU military operation to date.

It also has two smaller missions in Africa: supporting the peace process in the Democratic Republic of Congo and offering logistical support to the African Union's mission in the Darfur region of Sudan.

The EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, who attended Thursday's meeting, said the Bosnia operation "has been and continues to be a major success for the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP)".

To drive home the message of success, ministers were treated to an impressive demonstration of the sort of expeditionary capability - including fast jets, light artillery and Apache attack helicopters - which Britain could deploy in future EU operations.

Security threats

But how much progress has really been made?

Defence spending in the EU remains low and the 25 members - which together control the second largest military force in the world - struggle to make rather less than 5% of their manpower available for peace support operations.

Javier Solana
Javier Solana believes previous EU missions have been a success
In the light of new security threats, particularly terrorism, two of Nato's most distinguished former leaders have issued a stark warning to European governments.

In their foreword to a study by the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies, General Joseph Ralston, former Supreme Allied Commander Europe, and Klaus Naumann, former chairman of Nato's Military Committee, call for "sustained political leadership" to stop Europe falling further behind the United States.

"Failure to meaningfully improve Europe's collective defence capabilities in the coming years," they write, "would have profoundly negative impacts on the ability of European countries to protect their interests, the viability of Nato as an alliance and the ability of European countries to partner in any meaningful way with the United States to meet shared security challenges."

Increased co-operation

These are not new warnings - Europe's defence ambitions are often criticised for the lack of necessary funding. But this report is not arguing for more money.

Instead, the authors urge EU members to collaborate more effectively, and spend money more shrewdly.

"Given the political and budgetary constraints that European capitals face in increasing their defence budgets," they write, "the obvious way to enhance European defence capabilities and address existing shortfalls is through a greater degree of defence integration."

Integration would cover everything from defence planning and investment, more compatible military doctrines, and co-operative research, development and procurement.

National assets could be pooled and "country clusters" identified, where members with particular areas of expertise would take the lead in working with industry and improving the EU's overall capability.

It is challenging advice in a world where defence and sovereignty often go hand in hand - but advice which seems to have fallen on receptive ears, at least today.

In a statement released following the UK meeting at RAF Lyneham, the recently established European Defence Agency agreed that spending on research and technology needed to increase and to be more effective "through greater collaboration between EU countries".

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