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Tuesday, 14 November, 2000, 12:44 GMT
Minister denies Euro army move
UN troops in Sierra Leone
UK forces in action with other nationals in Sierra Leone
Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon has called for more military co-operation between European nations.

Speaking at the launch of a new report calling for politicians to prepare the ground for British troops to fight under an EU flag, Mr Hoon said Europe needed greater military might and more effective decision-making.

He criticised other European armies as "not fit" to carry out the crisis-management operations needed in today's world.

But he stopped short of committing Britain to a single European army.

Preparing public opinion

The report from the Institute for Public Policy Research, a think tank close to the government, said the EU's defence capacity would be undermined unless politicians in the UK and across Europe prepared public opinion for "difficult choices ahead".

EU force proposals
Operational 2003
60,000 strong
Deployable in 60 days
Capable of two-year operation
European Security Council mooted

It said defence expenditure would have to increase across Europe if the EU is to have an independent peace-keeping capacity by 2015 and an "autonomous military capacity" by 2030.

Speaking at the report's launch at a conference in London, Mr Hoon said: "Europe must become a more serious defence player."

EU force: The role
Humanitarian missions
Crisis intervention

He added: "There is no reason why, at the beginning of the new millennium, a continent of our size, wealth and experience should lack the capacity for effective decision-making and action.

"European nations already benefit enormously from co-operative military and politico-military activity.

"We want to do more, both at the political level and in a more practical way through our enhanced military capability."

Crisis management

On the standard of some European forces, he said: "With one or two exceptions, Europe's armed forces lack the necessary qualities.

"Too few of them are readily and rapidly deployable to crisis areas.

"Too many look much as they did during the Cold War and are rarely flexible enough to carry out a diverse range of crisis management tasks.

"They are not structured to sustain themselves in a theatre of operations for extended periods. In short, too many of them are not fit to face today's challenges."

Let's be real here. Merging 15 sets of armed forces into a consolidated European army is not going to happen

Nato secretary general George Robertson
The IPPR report - entitled European Defence: Meeting the Strategic Challenge - calls for all EU members to commit up to 180,000 personnel to the proposed European Rapid Reaction Force.

And it says an EU council of defence ministers should be set up to make decisions about the new force.

Mr Hoon called the report a "significant contribution" but said this did not mean he endorsed all its conclusions.

Rapid reaction force

Speaking earlier on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Hoon backed the proposed European rapid reaction force.

But he insisted that British members of the force would remain under national command - and would not be fighting under an EU flag.

"The British parliament and the British prime minister will decide how these forces are to be deployed," he said.

He added: "We will not be fighting under a European flag and the reality is that we will be organised in a way that a Nato or a UN multi-national force is organised."

He said different nationalities might work alongside each other but larger units would remain "in their different national groups."

Deal with Nato

Meanwhile, Nato secretary general George Robertson said he believed the alliance was close to wrapping up a deal with the EU on sharing defence assets.

Such a deal is essential if the EU is to meet its own deadline of 2003 for setting up a rapid reaction force.

Mr Robertson, a former British defence secretary, dismissed suggestions that the new force would be a European army in embryo.

"Let's be real here. Merging 15 sets of armed forces into a consolidated European army is not going to happen," he told a Brussels think-tank on Tuesday.

Mr Robertson also denied that the creation of a European force would drive a wedge between the US and the Nato members.

"It will help boost Atlantic security and will lead to a healthier relationship between the US and the EU."

The decision to create an EU force was partly a reaction to US criticism at the time of the Kosovo crisis that Europe was not doing enough on defence and was relying too much on Washington.

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