Will the EU turn NATO into a relic?
by William Pomeroy The military alliance with which western imperialism boasted of having prevailed in the Cold War is today under threat of crumbling. Affected is the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), which has unified the US militarily with most of the countries of Western Europe. However, it is not the forces of peace and democratic progress in Europe, which have long called for the dismantling of NATO, that are causing a crisis to develop in the alliance. It is the capitalist bloc of 15 countries called the European Union (EU), which is acting to build a military wing. Although, progressive Europeans would welcome the end of NATO, the military entity that is proposed to replace it would be no more a defender of democratic interests than NATO has been. For US imperialism, the collapse of the European socialist bloc and its Warsaw Pact removed the main obstacle to its global aims, but the rise of the EU has confronted it with an antagonist of another kind. The EU, begun initially by six countries with a common market goal, now has 15 members and is in the process of expanding to twice that number. Step by step it has moved toward political centralisation (with a functioning European Parliament and Executive Commission) and with increasing integration of financial and industrial sectors. Its trade and multinational corporation operations rival the US in the global economy. Particularly worrying to US strategic policy makers is the step toward creating a European army. The US has long been urging European countries to increase military spending and armed forces as their contribution to NATO, which would enable the US to reduce its own budgetary commitment. Initial moves four years ago to set up a joint army division of France and Germany were viewed approvingly. The idea of a much broader armed force had been brewing, however, in EU councils and what brought it to the fore was NATO's war against Yugoslavia: it was carried out almost wholly by the US air force and US weaponry, making European NATO members look inadequate and unable to wage up-to-date warfare. An EU with superpower hopes appeared militarily weak beside the US superpower. A December 1999 EU summit meeting in Helsinki pledged to create a 60,000- strong "rapid reaction force" by 2003 that could be deployed where NATO as a whole may not want to be involved, either within or outside the NATO area. At a summit in Lisbon in June 2000 the EU agreed to also establish a 5,000- member EU police force for "international missions". In November 2000, EU Defence and Foreign Affairs Ministers met in Brussels and began the allocating of troop contributions from member countries to the rapid reaction force (RRF). A December 2000 summit in Nice formally launched the RRF. As EU military plans proceeded, the United States viewed them with growing alarm. The US is now charging that the EU has a hidden agenda to establish a full-fledged European army separate from NATO, outside US control. Over the past year, as the RRF took shape, there have been frequent visits to Europe by US defence chiefs to warn the EU against the direction in which it is moving. On the eve of the Nice summit, then US Defence Secretary William Cohen told a gathering in Brussels of NATO and EU counterparts: "If there was an element of using the EU force structure in a way simply to set up a competing structure, then NATO could become a relic." The US delegation to the international security conference in Munich in the first week of February, headed by Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, engaged in what was reported as the bluntest exchange between US and other NATO members for decades. Part of this was over European resistance to the US "Star Wars" plan, but the main clash concerned the RRF. Rumsfeld expressed stern "reservations" about EU military plans, saying he was "a little worried" about the destabilisation of NATO that they embodied. It is the future prospect and potential of a European army that disturbs US interests. EU sources admit that it would be at least a decade before their forces could fight a high-tech war. The likelihood of conflict with other major powers is remote, but wars of intervention in areas where EU trade and investment are at stake, in Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia or elsewhere, are possible, and these may well affect US imperialist interests. The use of a rapid reaction force against revolutionary or other popular upheavals in Europe itself is not improbable. Among people's movements in Europe the very idea of a European army is an un-democratic concept. As it is, there is widespread discontent and opposition to the EU itself, its common currency (the euro), its European Commission that is the instrument of the big multinational corporations and its policies of privatisation and anti-welfare-state steps. To many people the EU declaration that its rapid reaction force is intended for "humanitarian and peacekeeping" purposes is particularly alarming: it is what NATO proclaimed as its intention in its brutal war against Yugoslavia.
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