BELGRADE – EU Foreign Ministers have agreed to set up a rapid reaction force that will involve EU Battlegroups, “air security operations” and “maritime security or surveillance operations,” to work alongside NATO, which is facing serious questions following criticisms from US President-elect Donald Trump.
Trump argued throughout the hustings in the presidential campaign that Europe is not paying its way within the alliance and has questioned why the US pays so much into an organization he described in March as “obsolete”.
His remarks sparked major worries in Eastern European NATO member states — including Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland — which are calling for more military support in the face of what they perceive to be the threat from Russia.
However, calls for an EU army, running separately from NATO, have been slammed by pro-alliance supporters — notably Britain — as well as by NATO itself, which sees any supplementary force within Europe as an unnecessary duplication.
Former NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen has dismissed European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s plan for a European army as a “paper tiger,” while the current NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, said: “Going it alone is not an option, either for Europe or for the United States.”
However, EU foreign ministers, meeting in Brussels November 14-15, have agreed to the creation of “joint crisis management operations […] joint stabilization operations, including air and special operations; Civilian and military rapid response, including military rapid response operations inter alia using the EU Battlegroups as a whole or within a mission-tailored Force package […] Air security operations including close air support and air surveillance; Maritime security or surveillance operations, including longer term in the vicinity of Europe.”
In an attempt at distancing itself from criticism for setting up a parallel operation to NATO the EU’s High Representative/Vice-President Federica, Mogherini said: “It it not about a European army. It is not about creating a new European Union SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe)-style headquarters. It is not about doing the European Union territorial defense. For this NATO is there; for those that are Allies and others have their own national defense competences.”
Despite this, she said the substance of the plan is about providing the European Union with the “capabilities, the structures, the tools and the financial resources that are needed to fulfil the level of ambition we identified […] deepening defense cooperation through the European Defense Agency,” according to the final document agreed by the ministers.