Monday, July 14, 2008

EU defense capabilities

For 10 years, the EU has sought to develop its own military capabilities. It has had some success: for example, it provides the military force that replaced NATO in Bosnia and another in Chad, across the border from Darfur.

However, recent proposals by French President Nicholas Sarkozy to strengthen EU military capabilities show just how limited they actually are. Sarkozy wants the EU to be able to field 60,000 troops (the initial goal set six or seven years ago) for missions outside Europe. While the EU member states together spend an estimated 204 billion euros on defense, only 2.7%, or 57,000, of their 2 million personnel in uniform are deemed capable of performing such expeditionary operations, as opposed to defending national territory, their primary mission during the Cold War.

To achieve its goal, the EU has to operate within two constraints. First, it must persuade European publics that military restructuring is unavoidable (closing bases is no more popular there than it is in the United States) and that defense spending must be increased. Second, the EU must also compete with NATO for these scarce, skilled forces, since European forces in Afghanistan or Iraq are drawn from the same pool of people. Let's hope Sarkozy succeeds; enhanced European military capabilities are in the U.S. long-term interest, whether they come under the rubric of NATO or the EU.

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