The Guardian - Britain backs Eurocorps bid for Kosovo command

Hoon offers to help Franco-German force take over peace mission

Richard Norton-Taylor, and Stephen Bates in Brussels

Friday December 3, 1999

Britain yesterday pledged to support a plan for the "Eurocorps" to take over command of the K-For peacekeeping force in Kosovo at a meeting of Nato defence ministers dominated by ambitious proposals to strengthen Europe's military effectiveness and widespread fears about US moves to build a national missile defence system.

British backing for the Franco-German force, a headquarters staff of 350 officers, to take over the 48,000-strong peacekeeping force next April increases the chances of the plan being approved, despite US scepticism that the European allies would be ready to take on the task.

Though Tony Blair's government has blazed the trail for a European "security and defence identity", it has been wary of committing itself to practical moves.

But Geoff Hoon, the defence secretary, said yesterday that Britain would be prepared to augment the Eurocorps if necessary.

He said Britain had "demonstrated the abilities that are required to organise these kinds of campaigns and if they need our help we would certainly be prepared to give it".

The Nato supreme commander, General Wesley Clark, received the Eurocorps offer last month and is expected to make a recommendation before the end of the year.

"It's a good offer as and when it's ready," said a British official, adding that there was no question of the EU taking over from Nato in Kosovo.

"It's only providing a particular part of the mission, for a limited period and as a part of Nato," the official said. "The only surprise is that they think they can move so fast, and that's good news."

There was no question of Britain attaching forces permanently to the Franco-German-led unit, he insisted.

Created in 1993 as a symbol of EU integration, the five-country corps, which includes Spanish, Belgian and Luxembourg staff, is seen by some as the embryo of a hypothetical "European army" - for which the EU has no plans.

A statement by Nato's defence planning committee yesterday "reaffirmed the enduring importance of the transatlantic link". The operations in Bosnia and Kosovo "could not have been undertaken without our integrated military structure and our well established mechanisms for collective planning", the allies declared.

A communique said the alliance would continue to maintain adequate nuclear forces in Europe, at a minimum level, not only as a deterrent but as "an essential political and military link between the European and North American members".

The likelihood that Nato would use nuclear weapons was extremely remote, they said. But they expressed concern that "Russia appears to be moving towards a greater reliance on nuclear weapons to ensure its security".

Earlier, William Cohen, the US defence secretary, told the European allies that an American anti-missile shield was necessary to counter potential threats from rogue states. He stressed that despite Moscow's objections, the plan would not threaten key nuclear arms treaties with Russia or affect Nato.

Russia, which declined to attend the conference, has warned it might tear up arms treaties if the US plan went ahead unilaterally.

Lord Robertson, Nato's new secretary general, later warned member countries that they would have to increase defence expenditure if Nato were to remain an effective military force.

"The time for a peace dividend is over because there is no permanent peace in Europe or anywhere else. You cannot afford to have security on the cheap," he said.

He reminded the 19-member organisation that the most pressing practical task facing it was closing the funding gap, claiming that Europe at present had "paper tiger" forces. On Wednesday Mr Cohen chided Germany for cutting its defence budget.

The ministers said they had adopted a five-year plan which focused on areas where the European partners needed to improve their contribution of modern, mobile forces.

http://www.newsunlimited.co.uk/Kosovo/Story/0,2763,110382,00.html

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