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The BBC's David Shukman
"The American military are watching nervously"
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Monday, 20 November, 2000, 13:24 GMT
Troops pledged to new EU force
UK and French soldiers in Bosnia
EU soldiers will work side-by-side in the new force
The UK is to provide one in five of the troops for Europe's new rapid reaction force.

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon has pledged to contribute 12,500 ground troops to the 60,000 strong force.

Mr Hoon made the commitment at a landmark meeting of EU defence ministers on Monday.

However, the plans have drawn criticism from the Conservative Party which argues the new force will undermine Nato and is another step towards the creation of a European superstate.

But arriving at the meeting, Mr Hoon said the force would not become a "standing European army".

This sounds and looks like a European army however much Mr Cook tries to deny it

William Hague
He said the British army would remain under the total control of the British government and ministers would decide when and where troops were deployed.

Mr Hoon criticised the Tories for failing to support the force.

"It is extremely disappointing that what is a very sensible commonsense way of planing a European commitment is becoming subject to rather hysterical comment by Euro-sceptic elements of the Conservative Party, which dominate the party's reaction to almost any event."

Under the plans, the EU will have a total of 60,000 troops capable of being deployed at 60 days' notice by 2003.

The force is intended for military operations ranging from small-scale rescue missions and conflict prevention to the full-scale separation of warring parties.

Along with 12,500 troops, Mr Hoon has also pledged 18 warships and up to 72 combat aircraft to the force.

Germany and France are expected to provide roughly similar numbers with smaller EU countries contributing the remainder.

Robin Cook
Robin Cook has attacked "lurid claims" over the European rapid reaction force
UK Foreign Secretary Robin Cook also attacked the Conservatives for using scare tactics in their opposition to the plans.

"The European Union is not going to take on collective defence, that is the job of Nato. The Atlantic alliance is not being undermined," he said.

But Tories say the rapid reaction force will create political structures that will weaken Nato and split the US from Europe.

Party leader William Hague said: "If it is a military force assembled exclusively by European countries, to be directed by the European Union, wearing arm badges that say they are for the European Union then what is it?

UK commitment
12,500 troops
18 warships
72 combat aircraft
"If it looks like an elephant and sounds like an elephant it is an elephant. And this sounds and looks like a European army however much Mr Cook tries to deny it."

"We think it is a threat to the future of Nato."

A cross-party group of former ministers have also joined in the criticism, urging "utmost caution" and calling the force "an openly political project".

'Nato alliance weakened'

The warnings come from Labour former defence secretary Lord Healey, Labour former foreign secretary Lord Owen, Tory former defence secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Tory former foreign secretary Lord Carrington.

"Nato has guaranteed our security and kept the peace in Europe for more than 50 years," they write in a letter to The Daily Telegraph newspaper.

Lord Robertson
Lord Robertson says America will not oppose an EU Rapid Reaction Force
"Creating competing military structures will without question challenge and weaken this alliance."

And senior military figures have also voiced their concern.

General Sir Anthony Farrar-Hockley, the former commander-in-chief of allied forces in Northern Europe, said differences between armies would cause problems.

"Only two nations of any substance in Europe have all-professional, all-regular forces, that is France and Britain.

"You will have the problem of using wholly or largely conscript forces," he said.

But Nato secretary-general Lord Robertson has argued that a European force would produce "added capability" for Nato.

No country would give up its sovereignty to a rapid reaction force and it was "sensible" for the EU to carry more of a military burden within the alliance, he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

The EU's foreign policy chief Javier Solana also talked up the rapid reaction force which he said would add "a vital additional element to the union's ability to tackle any crisis".

No 'new commitment'

The Chief of Defence Staff General Sir Charles Guthrie said the force would strengthen Nato rather than make it weaker.

He said he did not believe that the decision would mean a "huge new commitment" for British military personnel.

Speaking for the Liberal Democrats Menzies Campbell said: "It makes nothing but good sense for the EU to acquire the ability to deal with crises such as Bosnia and Kosovo without having to rely on the Americans."

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See also:

20 Nov 00 | Europe
Euro army explained
14 Nov 00 | UK Politics
Minister denies Euro army move
20 Nov 00 | Talking Politics
Euro army widens political splits
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