A European force

An editorial from the New York Times – covering a topic oft covered on this blog. The growing thirst in Europe for a greater military power, to rival the United States, is something that seems to have affected the Bush administration.

The Bush administration has identified yet another threat abroad. This time it’s the proposal by France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg to create a European Union military planning and command center separate from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Nicholas Burns, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, declared this no less than “one of the greatest dangers to the trans-Atlantic relationship” and summoned the allies to give an emergency display of fealty in Brussels.

It was as if the Europeans were seriously considering the creation of a European army that could challenge the United States, rather than another bureaucracy that might be simply redundant militarily and irritating politically. A separate headquarters is not a good idea, and the French and Germans should be regularly cautioned against letting defiance of the United States, or of NATO, go too far. There is ample provision in procedures agreed between NATO and the EU to cope with the sorts of limited operations France and Germany cite. But Washington’s overreaction only feeds the spreading fear that the United States seeks to maintain total control over Europe, a fear that could create just the sort of danger that Burns warns against.

What so worried the Bush administration was not only more insubordination from the French and Germans, but also that Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain did not leap to Washington’s side. Last month, Blair met in Berlin with President Jacques Chirac of France and Chancellor Gerhard Schröder of Germany to talk over European defenses. Exactly what transpired is not clear, but from all indications Blair rejected a separate headquarters as unnecessary, and talked instead of letting interested EU members, Britain among them, pursue greater unity through “structured cooperation.” There’s nothing particularly radical in that. Blair and Chirac had already spoken in 1998 of a European force. Britain, moreover, has been consistently staunch in its rejection of any European structures that could weaken trans-Atlantic ties. And a separate European headquarters would never have the forces or assets to conduct more than minor operations. Yet in the aftermath of the bitter disputes over Iraq, the Bush administration saw “structured cooperation” as a potential seed for the decoupling of Europe and the United States, and lost its cool.

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