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Wednesday, 6 December, 2000, 10:01 GMT
Do we need a European rapid reaction force?
EU defence ministers have pledged some 60,000 troops for a rapid reaction force capable of being deployed at short notice.
Ministers say Europe needs to co-operate more closely on defence matters. Critics say the rapid reaction force is tantamount to the creation of an EU army.
Does a rapid reaction force ensure that Europe deals with conflicts more efficiently? Does it make the world safer? Or does it amount to the creation of a European army that would undermine NATO and therefore global security?
We discussed this issue in Talking Point ON AIR, the live phone-in radio programme from BBC World Service and BBC News Online. Diana Madill presented the programme and was joined by BBC defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus.
Select the link below to listen to Talking Point On Air.
A RRF may help end some of the televised genocide that we have witnessed in the past 10 years. Then people may begin to see the positive aspect of respecting the rules of humanitarian law set forth by the Geneva Convention. But then again there will also be people asking the timeless question, "Why should I care what happens to another people as long as it doesn't directly affect me?" I wait for the day our when our economic interests are trumped by our desire to be human.
I feel that the rapid reaction force is yet another step towards a European super state. If such a thing was to happen, it would mean a loss of national identity and as William Hague said, the United Kingdom will only be a name.
I think that in principle the idea of a European Rapid Reaction force is a good one. However, I do have reservations. These are that it will, even if in only a small way, undermine Nato's position. Additionally, at a time when British forces are over-stretched and underfunded is it wise to take on yet more commitments? Lastly, as the action in Kosovo and the continuing policing of the Gulf has shown, it is very difficult to gain a consensus from European governments on how best to use a military force. To go into battle with less than total support from colleagues is dangerous. If these issues could be resolved prior to any deployment of such a force then I think the EU force would work.
Dale R. Smith, USA
People talk about how we must break away from American influence and instead look to Europe alone.
Surely we must look to work with both - greater co-operation between all is the way ahead. Every one of us has an interest in world peace being kept as best we can.
Lesley H, Devizes, UK
We need fewer armies, not more. I am sick of seeing my hard-earned taxes going towards oppressing other nations, such as Serbia during the bombing last year. The UK spent 73 million pounds a day during the 10-week bombing campaign. Imagine how many fabulous schools and hospitals could have been built with that money. If I had a choice, not one penny of my taxes would be spent on defence. Armies create their own wars - it is the condition of their existence.
I expect like most things associated with the EU, it will be a slow reaction farce.
James Cavanagh, Skelmersdale, England
It is about high time the European rapid force was established in order to keep peace and security within the European continent, only without any help from the USA. What is beyond the European continent should be taken care of by an international force.
Europe will never do it. Stop living in Disneyland. Hope George W. cuts off the 1-800-USA-HELP line. Do you think we are here to protect you forever?
Also note, it is normal for any country to protect and defend its national interests. The US armed forces are not Red Cross workers and I see nothing in Bosnia or Albania that concerns me as an American. If they want to kill each other, just let them. What makes them any more special than Lebanon or the Sudan?
Can the UK defence industry afford to grease enough palms to secure those all-important contracts to supply the proposed new force? Just watch: this is going to be Europe's biggest-ever gravy train for corporate lobbying, the bribing of bureaucrats and begging for taxpayer subsidies.
The only rapid reaction force we need is one that will sort out EU bureaucracy
Matt Hyland, Birmingham, England
When will people realise that we should be making decisions for the future rather than the past? Whilst the UK may have had a 'special relationship' with the US in the 20th century, US interest is moving towards the Pacific Rim in the 21st. The US and its advocating of its own kind of imperialism - the economic sort - means that it is not necessarily a benevolent influence on Europe. And with regards to language problems, surely similar objections could have been raised to NATO before it began. After all, how many different languages are spoken in its member states?
How does anyone expect to create an RRF when our forces are already under-manned, under-paid and under-funded? Can anybody also tell me when I am likely to see my husband when he has completed a six month tour of Bosnia followed by a six month tour of Kosovo as well as all the normal three or four weeks away on exercise to train? It's a good job I have a photo otherwise I might forget what he looked like.
James Jeffrey, USA, but ENGLISH
It is true that we need to be independent of the U.S.A. They stood back for years whilst Europe was devastated during the WWII and only came into the fray due to Japanese aggression. They also charged very heavily for their contribution which led to much extra hardship. Having said that, it will be an enormous challenge to have one united European force. The practical problems involved are great. What language will be used? Who will be making final decisions? How will the financial burden be divided between the countries etc. I love Europe and our wonderful heritage and culture but I am not sure if we are ready for one army. It is something we should work towards, but realistically taking into consideration the advice of military experts and not the words of an ambitious but ill-informed Blair.
I can't help finding an underlying premise of much of this questionable. Namely the notion that the US protects us and reluctantly takes on peacekeeping missions as part of its "duty" to freedom or democracy. The US intervenes whether under UN flag, NATO flag or alone purely when its own national interest can be furthered. As far as humanitarian issues go it can be seen that the US will choose to intervene to prevent human rights abuses only when it wants to intervene anyway. From this I think that US intervention in Europe and European affairs can only be bad for us and anything which prevents it can only be good.
G. L.Spencer, Andover, England
Unfortunately, the decision to establish a European Rapid Reaction Force is based solely upon political reasoning. This force, (about as effective as the Euro) is to give the EEC the trappings of statehood in preparation for the inevitable.
Problems like Yugoslavia are European problems, to be solved by Europeans and nobody else, otherwise what is the point in us "Europeans" having armies and at the first sign of problems go running to Big Daddy the Americans to resolve our problems. It is the mark of a strong country or coalition of countries to resolve problems on our own doorstep, to say otherwise shows a remarkable lack of national pride and cowardice
No doubt, we will invest the most into this RRF in terms of personnel and capital, when it isn't us that are endangered. We have the British Armed Forces to protect this country, and NATO to protect our international interests; a RRF will be surplus to OUR requirements.
Europe does not have a single political body
which is capable of responding to a series of
rapidly unfolding events (on a timescale of days)
and making effective and coherent decisions.
I do not therefore look forward to the first
time the rapid reaction force is deployed. The
EU is incapable of providing the kind
of clear direction and leadership required
to successfully direct any kind of military
operation. The skills and experience required
are not to be gained from decades of regulation of
meat production or political correctness
A thousand times, yes. The nations of the EU
spend 75% of the amount that the US does on
defence, yet the capability of their armed forces
is puny in comparison. Why? Duplication of effort,
bureaucrats, management..... The need for
streamlining is evident. The rapid reaction force is
a very welcome first step.
The second reason is that the US are plainly afraid to
put their soldiers in the front line, particularly
when their national interests are not directly at stake.
If George Bush comes to power, this attitude will
only get worse. If the EU can come up with a force
for the peace keeping missions the US cannot sell to CNN,
so much the better.
There is space for a rapid reaction force. As long as it is only the most developed European Nations. It hopefully can by-pass UN bureaucracy
and go to areas too dangerous for peacekeepers. It also frees it from the US and Eastern Europe states that are now in NATO which was always supposed to be a defensive union.
Steven Mun, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
America pursues only its interests and Europeans should do likewise. To do this they need an independent force that is controlled by themselves and nobody else.
A British military officer said on the BBC recently that US dollars were behind
this EU force.
Why won't you better strengthen U.N. peace-keeping forces?
Would we see a possible expansion of the scope of this force in future to intervene in any crisis in Africa and Asia (especially in the former colonies)?
The US has long complained of having to "do all the heavy lifting" because Europe has hitherto been unable to get its military act together. The ERRF would do a lot to mitigate this and potentially even strengthen Nato as well as Europe.
James Dillin, Melbourne, FL, USA
NATO has been very effective in its defined role. Many contributors allude to growing isolationism in the US and concern if Bush is elected. The Republicans and Democrats are committed to global involvement. The European Force sounds appealing but I am cynical that it become a bureaucratic money-laundering machine. Britain has far different values from her European counterparts.
Everybody is forgetting history. This EU "army" is a prelude to political union in the EU, one government. If people think that the Germans or French are going to like taking political orders from each other - you are mistaken. This EU army does not bode well for Europe. If it all goes ahead, there will be another war in Europe within the next 50 years purely down to nationalism, and this time the US won't be able to help because they become withdrawn from world affairs.
Tony Stayne, Sidcup UK
A Rapid Reaction Force would be the next logical step only when you have a true European Union. It seems that the EU has a lot of other more important problems to sort out before it should consider duplicating what is already in place.
The Brits have, over the years, proven themselves to be quite capable of getting involved, being active in military intervention activities, be they UN or European. The last thing the UK needs is getting its military tied-up in the oft-discussed Euro bureaucracy and inter-nation bickering.
Simon Wholey, Grantham, Lincs
One might well have expected such a response from Geoffrey Howe, did he not contribute to Mrs Thatcher's downfall with his conflict of views over Europe? And of course we all know only too well that Michael Hesletine is quite firmly in favour a federal European superstate. It is about time these has-beens from a previous Government kept their big mouths quite firmly shut and stopped trying to dilute William Hague's job of opposing a shortsighted scheme that, as Lady Thatcher has said, is a "monumental folly" that is only designed to boost President Blair's personal popularity in Brussels.
Most of the arguments I've seen in favour of the RRF are ill informed. First, we don't need the RRF/European army to make another European war less likely. All the major European powers have been allies for years, either through NATO or the EU. Second, the RRF still won't make Europe militarily independent of the USA. Only the Americans have heavy airlift and satellite intelligence capability; the RRF can't operate without either. As for Britain's supposedly disproportionate burden in American-led NATO operations, who do you think the EU are relying on to supply all the know-how and skilled personnel for the RRF? Belgium?
Gavin Sherriff, UK
What the world needs is a resource capable of ending "low intensity conflicts". A European rapid reaction force which focuses exclusively on Europe and which can take 60+ days to deploy is not the answer. Is it time to consider the use of private military companies who have already demonstrated an ability to successfully address these situations?
As we have far more in common with the USA than Europe lets stick with NATO.
It will probably cost us less financially and we won't have to be under the thumb of the two countries who think that they ARE Europe - France and Germany.
Europe is not pulling its weight with regards to defence and world security. While the americans can be patronising etc, they are being far too generous as allies and it can not last for ever. Perhaps the EU force will spur the Europe to stand on it's own two feet with regard to military capability.
John Collins, Kent UK
Correct me if I'm wrong but I thought that the EU as a whole spends more than the US on defence, but due to duplication has about 1/10th of the capacity. So a joint force would in fact reduce our spending whilst increasing our capacity. What is the problem with that?
We don't need a rapid reaction force. It's rapid reaction leadership that's needed.
it seems to me that our politicians are constantly looking for ways to enhance their personal power and influence. They also like to find reasons to sort out problems that are not their responsibility on the grounds of "humanity" when they are incapable of sorting out problems at home. A European army is an excellent vehicle for much more posturing and would be a totally unnecessary burden on the already over-taxed people.
Ed Ford, Winchester, England
Only the EU could define 60 days as "rapid"! I don't know whether to laugh or cry.
The European Rapid Reaction Force is an important step forward. With the Cold War over the United States is looking to reduce its commitments across the globe. Europe needs to be able to look after its own problems without having to ask the United States for permission. NATO will not be undermined; it will always remain an important European-Atlantic institution.
Flt Lieutenant E Ford, RAF, Conningsby, England
Of course Europe should be responsible for it's own defence. However in both the Gulf and Kosovo, Europe has been divided. The UK firmly for action, the French against. Would Europe have supported us in the Falklands war? I doubt it. So whilst Europe should take responsibility,
the Americans are our greatest ally.
A European Rapid Reaction Force does not automatically mean that politicians are trying to create a European super state. Nato is a multinational defence alliance and it worked throughout the cold war against the members of the Warsaw Pact on the other side. That part of history has gone, the lines are being redrawn and it is time that Britain realised that the days of our "special" relationship with the US are over. We are geographically and politically part of Europe and it is time we realised that and started taking part.
As an African living in Britain I am becoming increasingly bored with the scare-mongering which seems to start with the appearance of every new EU measure. The EU rapid reaction force is a logical step in reducing Europe's dependency on the USA.
Mark Edwards, UK
The most annoying thing about this whole episode is the way it has been steamrollered through without any proper debate in Parliament. It smacks of New Labour's persistent ignorance towards it's own people and is another sad example of how political debate (or lack of it) is carried on by the whole European facade. Europe within Nato has been the basis of peace for almost 60 years. Why not put the RRF within that tried and tested structure? Probably because it doesn't allow France the political prowess she would like. Blair should try to remember the past a little more often (Beef, EMU, even the fickleness of our "friends" in the last war). He might learn something, and treat his more experienced colleagues with a bit more respect.
I'm all for it. Nationalism causes wars. If the whole of Europe has a common army, we can all look forward to a more harmonious Europe - banishing the threat of war to the history books!
Martin Taylor, UK
As a serving member of the UK military I'm always delighted to see a bit of political rubbish dressed up as progress. So we're committing X number of troops, ships and aircraft to this "Force". Is there going to be any actual increase in capability? No. The reason NATO needs the USA is the simple fact that they provide the vast bulk of "our" forces; who in Europe can provide military outsize heavy airlift? The most basic question of all is who has the money the support extended operations? The answer to these is, I'm afraid, the US. Europe does need to be able to stand on it's own two feet and pull it's own weight in defence matters but it won't do it by creating paper armies that exist solely to make politicians look good. If you want the USA out of your defence matters then I'm afraid you're going to have to spend money, a lot of it.
Russ Black, USA
It is a very good thing. Europe needs to be able to sort out its problems quickly within its own borders to prevent them growing to a scale that we have seen this century, with disastrous consequences. The only real problem is that the major burden will fall upon the British, who at this point are the only nation in Europe capable of fielding a trained fighting force at short notice.
I don't get it. The US wants us to take more responsibility for our own defence; we want to reduce our dependence on US-led missions. Where is the problem with this Rapid Reaction Force? Can it undermine NATO? Well, if you substitute the EU for the Atlantic Council, it will be identical. The communication and military command structures are the same - just that the political leadership will come from Europe alone.
A "Rapid reaction" force? Exactly what trouble is it expected to deal with? What if one of the contributing countries disagrees with the objectives? I know we'll get politicians to make decisions shall we..? Sounds like we are headed up another blind alley......good idea in principle but in practice it won't work......
Roger Franklin, UK
The creation of the EU Rapid Reaction Force is not the most important issue. The real question is whether or not the EU would have the will to use such a force. The ability to make quick and decisive decisions has not proven to be a real strength of the EU given past experiences. Europe should stand on it's own without relying on the US, but does it have the will to do so?
Please be our guest. We spend untold sums to provide protection for Europe
Although in theory a rapid-response unit may serve an effective role against minor conflict; if it is to be successful, then it must have the support of populations of the countries involved. As history has too often proven, to commit troops otherwise tends to result in failure. Would not a referendum on this issue therefore be a positive idea? Especially when it may also threaten the basis of NATO.
It's about time that the world was given an alternative to the U.S. as an international police force. While they have had some reasonable successes, they act all too often in their own interests. As the only other sympathetic world force, Europe has failed miserably in its half-hearted attempts at mediation in world crisis-points. Hopefully this new force will give it the diplomatic clout it needs to be a strong voice on the international stage.
Appalled yet again by the further push towards European integration. The two fundamental key issues which surround our nations independent status - it's currency and it's fighting capability. Not content with trying to dump our sterling they have taken the first steps towards turning control of our fighting forces over to the mad men of Europe. I despair at the stupidity of this government and wonder what is really behind these moves towards a more integrated Europe. Be suspicious, be very suspicious!
This is another European initiative that is doomed to failure from the outset, fragmented political control of a multinational force will NOT work.
Jon Wood, UK
Whichever way the US election turns out the country is going to have a president and congress with no real mandate rule. The result will be an impotent US on the international stage for the next four years. This gives even more emphasis to the need for Europe to go it alone to protect its interests as well as provide peace-keeping operations where they are needed around the world. Arguments about surrender of national sovereignty hold little water if they are coupled with a desire not to undermine (US dominated) NATO.
Please do form an EU Rapid Reaction Force. It is time that Europe step up to the plate. Far too many Americans have died in the effort to do what European nations have not had the guts to do themselves. Maybe this will turn that tradition around.
Well, yes. Of course we do... Look at how the Americans handled the Kosovo crisis, look at how all countries during that conflict suffered a major communication breakdown. It just seems such an obvious solution.
What language will they speak? What radio procedures and equipment will be used?
Who will be responsible for resupply of ammunition, food,batteries, water,fuel and to whom etc etc.
At what point in the ladder of command will communication break down, worse, be misunderstood?
I understand fully all the moral and ethical chattering, as well as the factual statements concerning Nato, the USA etc. But my own experience shows clearly that vital operational detail is wholly ignored by politicians, who are looking at a much wider picture.
Mind you, they are also not slow at apportioning blame when things go wrong having been informed of potential pitfalls.
Why does anything have to change?
The sensible solution must be to encourage a greater European contribution to NATO, not to set up a totally separate entity. The EU has an appalling record when it comes to 'rapid reaction' - for example in the use of funds for emergency relief - and one would have serious doubts about the effectiveness of this force. In any case, despite the kind of denial we have heard before, on other Euro issues, there must be a serious risk that this would be a step on the road towards the army of a European superstate. A dreadful prospect, and a good reason to draw a line in the sand, right now.
Mark , Portugal
Yes we do need a force that is not dependent upon the USA. Not having one is neither sensible for us nor fair on the US which is usually called on to sort out European problems.
To suggest that the force as specified is a "Euro Army" is similar to suggesting that NATO is a North Atlantic army. From the what the conservatives talk, I guess they would rather the UK be run from Washington.
The phrases "Rapid reaction" and "European Union" don't really sound right together.
Chris Pratley, UK
No one would disagree that Europe has proved woefully inadequate when dealing with international crisis. But this will not be resolved by pooling our military assets, since Europe's problems start with the chronic under funding of the high technology, which America excels at. We attempted to resolve this in projects such as the Eurofighter, and the Horizon frigate, which have are either massively over budget and late, or have been abandoned completely. With the Tracer project, and the Joint Strike Fight, for Britain it has been proved that we are better off in partnership with the US.
Colin Basham, Germany
The military capability of the EU states will be the same whether a 'Eurocorps' is established or not. Joint operations in such peace-keeping operations as that seen in Kosovo are under a single command structure already.
Why cloud the issue by introducing a further unnecessary strata of command? The answer is that this is a purely political decision. Comments suggesting that this is a sensible decision, designed to create a more co-ordinated 'European' response to crisis situations is clearly spin.
Make no mistake, this is the start of a federal Euro-army.
I'm afraid this whole issue is one of those Euro-scares that right wing politicians like to banter about. A European Reaction Force, from a military point of view, is something that has been in the pipeline since the 70s - with the greater need for closer integration of national forces to ensure cohesive and effective defence.
There is nothing frightening or ominous about a Euro-Force, it is simply another way in which British forces can react to any given emergency.
Major (Retired) Chris Klein, UK
Let's face it: by NATO we mean the US. They are foremost in almost every aspect of its operation. Scenarios where there is little US interest can result, therefore, in lethargy. A perfect example of this was Kosovo (where the US was hesitant and eventually committed no ground troops until after the fighting was over). Kosovo showed Europe how ill-prepared it was for this type of situation. The result is the Rapid Reaction Force. In this way, Europe can react quickly to such atrocities without having to wait for a decision from the US.
I had to laugh when I read recently the suggestion that the RRF would "undermine British sovereignty". And what exactly is NATO: a British association? Any 'sovereignty' argument you might make against the RRF equally applies to our NATO membership.
I hope this European force does undermine NATO. I think it is time that we recognise that NATO is purely US-led and therefore an instrument to keep Europe a protectorate.
Toby Jones, UK
Any credible military force needs three things: a clear chain of command, a well-defined and achievable mission, and the capability to execute that mission. Let's see how the "EU rapid reaction force" measures up, shall we?
It depends on who you believe. The anti-Europeans are busily setting up straw men (or is it straw elephants?) about a European army.
On the other hand the Secretary-General of NATO welcomes the move as addressing American concerns over European inability to deal with issues in our own back yard.
On the whole I don't see either France or Germany signing up to anything which gives us the right to commit their forces without right of veto, so it sounds like a good idea. After all, we co-operate on pretty much everything else in the defence field these days.
I fear that despite various politicians assurances, this "EU-army" will create another wedge between the EU and the USA. The EU must have a cost-effective ability to act independently where our vital interests are threatened, but could this not be achieved within NATO? The USA and EU, broadly speaking, share many of the same vital interests. The constant bickering, such as the banana / beef trade war, threatens to create a split to be exploited by certain third parties.
Simon J Funnell, England
Income tax can be reduced if the 15 EU states share the costs of defence by creating a single army under single command. The 15 small, expensive European armies should be unified in a single army, for *half* the costs of 15 armies. Obsolete military equipment should be sold to peaceful, developing countries. Europeans will pay lower taxes and Nato would be formed of the EU and its allies, Canada and the US.
Whether we need one or not is almost academic - The fact of the matter is that it can not work for the following reason:
National interests and Union interests are often contrasting, and since this Union force will have to have the nod from all its respective governments for it to operate effectively and with a consistent level of commitment it is doomed to incoherent incompetence.
How exactly would NATO help deal with a conflict within Europe if Bush wins the presidency? There are very real reasons why a combined-arms force for Europe is necessary - let's listen to what the generals have to say and help them save lives.
Our Armed Forces are already vastly over-stretched and under-manned. Where are all these extra resources going to come from?
Ed Thomson, UK
20 Nov 00 | Politics
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