EU moves to bring mil­i­tary un­der one com­mand

Top Bri­tish of­fi­cial warns about threat posed by Rus­sia.

Austin American-Statesman - - VIEWPOINTS - By Ian Wishart Wash­ing­ton Post

Bri­tish For­eign Sec­re­tary Boris John­son warned of the threat Rus­sia poses to Western democ­ra­cies as the Euro­pean Union moved to bring its mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions un­der a sin­gle com­mand for the first time.

Rus­sian au­thor­i­ties are “en­gaged in cy­ber-war­fare, they’re en­gaged in un­der­min­ing coun­tries in the Western Balkans — you saw what hap­pened in Mon­tene­gro — to say noth­ing of Rus­sia’s ac­tions in Ukraine which are, as ev­ery­body knows, com­pletely un­ac­cept­able,” John­son told re­porters in Brus­sels on Mon­day as he headed into a meet­ing of EU for­eign and de­fense min­is­ters.

Euro­pean gov­ern­ments bol­stered se­cu­rity mea­sures af­ter Rus­sia an­nexed Crimea in 2014 and fol­low­ing al­le­ga­tions that Moscow tried to over­throw Mon­tene­gro’s gov­ern­ment and as­sas­si­nate for­mer Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic dur­ing last year’s elec­tions. John­son will meet Rus­sian For­eign Minister Sergei Lavrov for talks “in the com­ing weeks,” Bri­tain’s For­eign and Com­mon­wealth Of­fice said in a March 4 state­ment.

“They’ve got to change, they’ve got to show they can be trusted again,” John­son said. “It’s vi­tally im­por­tant that we en­gage with the Rus­sians, we try to un­der­stand where they are com­ing from and we try to shape their poli­cies.”

De­fense min­is­ters at the meet­ing agreed to set up a cen­tral­ized com­mand struc­ture that would pool mil­i­tary re­sources and de­ci­sion-mak­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties from the 28 mem­ber states.

While there’s al­ways been a de­gree of sup­port within the EU for co­op­er­a­tion on mil­i­tary mat­ters, it took on new life af­ter Rus­sia’s in­cur­sion in Ukraine and with more fre­quent ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­ity in the bloc’s core. There has been fur­ther im­pe­tus since De­fense Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis said the U.S. would “mod­er­ate its com­mit­ment” to NATO if mem­bers didn’t ful­fill their pledges to spend at least 2 per­cent of gross do­mes­tic prod­uct on de­fense.

The plan is “a ma­jor step for­ward” but “it’s not the Euro­pean army,” EU for­eign pol­icy chief Fed­er­ica Mogherini told re­porters in Brus­sels be­fore the meet­ing, re­spond­ing to ac­cu­sa­tions that the bloc is grad­u­ally set­ting up its own mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­i­ties. The plan will en­able a “more uni­fied, more ra­tio­nal, more ef­fi­cient ap­proach to ex­ist­ing train­ing mis­sions.”

EU gov­ern­ments are show­ing a readi­ness to in­crease mil­i­tary co­op­er­a­tion as the U.K., which spends more on de­fense in ab­so­lute terms than any other Euro­pean coun­try in the North At­lantic Treaty Or­ga­ni­za­tion, pre­pares to leave the bloc in 2019.

The in­creased co­op­er­a­tion is more sym­bolic than trans­for­ma­tional. Some of the EU’s cur­rent mis­sions, which have in­di­vid­ual field com­man­ders, will come un­der the aus­pices of a uni­fied com­mand cen­ter in Brus­sels. Un­der­scor­ing the sen­si­tiv­i­ties sur­round­ing de­fense-shar­ing, even this move has been con­tro­ver­sial, with many gov­ern­ments op­pos­ing the use of the term “head­quar­ters” to de­scribe the new ar­range­ment.

The com­man­der will over­see the EU’s mil­i­tary train­ing mis­sions in con­flict zones such as Mali and the Cen­tral African Repub­lic.

The U.K. is un­likely to im­pede the plan, de­spite tra­di­tion­ally op­pos­ing moves to sig­nif­i­cantly in­crease de­fense co­op­er­a­tion for fear that it would di­lute NATO au­thor­ity. Bri­tain, which spent an es­ti­mated $51 bil­lion on de­fense in 2016, may use its mil­i­tary might as lever­age in ne­go­ti­a­tions over its exit from the bloc.

“We are urg­ing the Euro­pean Union to co­op­er­ate more closely with NATO, to avoid un­nec­es­sary du­pli­ca­tion and struc­tures and to work to­gether on new threats,” U.K. De­fense Sec­re­tary Michael Fallon told re­porters on his way into the meet­ing.

Even though de­fense ex­pen­di­ture as a share of GDP fell to a record low in the con­ti­nent in 2015, EU mem­ber states, ex­clud­ing Bri­tain, still spend about $212 bil­lion a year on their armed forces.

Un­der pres­sure from the new U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion, the EU will vow to com­mit ad­di­tional re­sources on de­fense, ac­cord­ing to draft con­clu­sions of a sum­mit tak­ing place in Brus­sels later this week ob­tained by Bloomberg.

The bloc could save as much as 100 bil­lion eu­ros an­nu­ally if its mem­bers pool re­sources and in­crease co­op­er­a­tion, the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion said last year.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.