BRUSSELS, Belgium – Defense Secretary William Cohen got tough with his European colleagues Tuesday, telling them if they don’t start spending more on their military and work out a new EU-NATO relationship, the alliance “could become a relic of history.”
The 15-nation European Union is developing its own rapid-reaction force, separate from NATO but with plans to share some NATO planning facilities, intelligence and communications. It would use the force to address crises that NATO does not want to get involved in. The EU wants to be able to field a 60,000-man force by 2003.
Cohen, making his last appearance at a NATO ministerial meeting as a representative of the Clinton administration, stressed the American concern that the EU not duplicate NATO’s extensive planning capacity.
France, which is not a member of the alliance’s integrated military command, would prefer the Union to be more autonomous than the United States and some of the other allies would like, and would like to see a separate planning structure.
NATO, Cohen told reporters, “is not a political organization designed to balance competing agendas.”
“If NATO and the EU … are seen as autonomous and competing institutions rather than integrated, transparent and complementary ones, then NATO and collective security are likely to suffer.”
French Defense Minister Alain Richard insisted: “We are not disagreeing. We are creating something new.”
NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson agreed with the American’s criticisms. “I think Secretary Cohen was right to warn us,” he said.
He added: “If we get a lot of things wrong, then NATO will be irrelevant. If we don’t get the right capability for the future, then NATO will not have credibility. If we don’t get the right EU-NATO linkages, then of course there will be danger for the vitality of NATO as an organization and the security of its members.”
Future NATO-EU relations depend on how the EU’s new European Security and Defense Policy evolves. EU leaders will meet in Nice, France, beginning Thursday to examine proposals for a new NATO-EU relationship.
The EU is developing its military arm while NATO is implementing the Defense Capabilities Initiative, an effort to modernize and upgrade NATO military capabilities to move away from the Cold War posture and prepare for future threats, such as terrorism and ethnic conflicts. This calls for more military spending as well.
“Every European member of NATO has only one set of forces and one defense budget, not one force and one budget for NATO and another force and military budget for the EU,” Cohen said.
“Therefore I proposed as part of the proposed NATO-EU link a common defense planning process involving all 23 NATO and EU countries as the only logical and cost effective way to ensure the best possible coordination of limited forces and resources.”
Every dollar spent on bureaucracy rather than military capability is a disadvantage for the soldier on the ground, he said.