Eurocorps gets Kosovo role in boost for EU

BRUSSELS, Jan 29, 2000 -- (Reuters) The 19 NATO allies on Friday approved a European proposal to assign command of their Kosovo peacekeeping mission (KFOR) to the five-nation Eurocorps at the next regular rotation in April.

Approval will be welcomed particularly in Paris and Berlin as a boost for the fledgling European Security and Defense Initiative (ESDI), the 15-member European Union drive to create a military force for crisis management closely linked to NATO.

A green light for Eurocorps had been in doubt because of misgivings among senior NATO military commanders that it might not be up to the task, and concern among NATO allies who are not European Union members that they risked being excluded.

"The North Atlantic Council has approved the designation of the Eurocorps as the next KFOR command KFOR-3," Lee McClenny told Reuters in Brussels after the expiry of a so-called "silence" period in which no NATO member opposed the decision.

French Defense Minister Alain Richard told parliamentarians in Paris on Thursday that only one of NATO's 19 allies was still opposed to the proposal. Diplomats identified that country as Turkey, one of six NATO allies that are not EU members.

Turkey's position reflects concern about being shut out of future European-only operations that will need to call on NATO resources. The EU has given assurances that all non-EU allies will be fully consulted and able to take part in such missions.


NATO diplomatic sources cautioned that the Eurocorps, created in May 1992 by the French and German leaders of the day, Francois Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl, would have to be considerably augmented to take on NATO's military role.

"Their strength is 300-400, whereas the current Kosovo command has 1,200-1,500," a source told Reuters. The Eurocorps, which earlier used French and German as working languages, will operate in English and follow all NATO procedures.

However, its top commanders would not automatically take over the top KFOR-3 posts, the source said. "All that has still to be determined."

The first KFOR command was held by NATO's Allied Command Europe Rapid Reaction force, led by British General Mike Jackson. He was succeeded by German general Klaus Reinhardt last October when the allied LANDCENT headquarters took over.

Spain, Belgium and Luxembourg are also part of Eurocorps, which is based in Strasbourg on the French border with Germany.

France and Germany were especially keen to see the Eurocorps given a high-profile role at the head of the 50,000-strong KFOR mission deployed in the Serbian province last June at the end of NATO's 11-week air war against Yugoslavia.

Other NATO allies, particularly the United States, are concerned that ESDI will also mean a significant increase in the military capabilities of the European partners, which fell far short of American capabilities in the Kosovo operation.

The European Union is still working out how its main "headline goal" for the ESDI project - creation of a rapid reaction crisis-management force ready to maintain 60,000 troops in the field for one year - will operate with NATO.

The aim is for deployment of a Europeans-only force in cases where the United States chooses not to be involved. But units and military assets would have to be re-assigned from their normal NATO roles for such missions.

Skeptics in the U.S. Congress say ESDI may drive a wedge into the successful 50-year-old alliance or content itself with symbolic gestures rather than investing in real capabilities.