U.S. move triggers debate on E.U. defence

BRUSSELS, AUG. 21. The resolve of the United States President, George W. Bush, to pull out nearly 70,000 troops from Europe and Asia has triggered a debate about the current state of the European Union's defence preparedness.

The U.S. move gains significance in the background of the efforts being made by E.U. leaders to integrate, modernise and trim the European defence establishment, which remains fragmented and duplicated. Questions have also been raised about the capability of the defence forces to deal with the security situation in the changed global context, with the rise in terrorism.

Currently, the U.S. has over two lakh troops deployed in Europe — mainly in Germany, Britain and parts of Central Europe. The former supreme commander of NATO, General Joseph Ralston, and the former Chief of Staff of Germany, Klaus Newman, have said that the only way to remedy the existing lacunae in the E.U.'s defence system is "through coordinating efforts to create more independent defence capabilities".

They said the U.S. move should make the authorities in Berlin, Paris and London sit up and ponder over the future role of the E.U. in global security. By the end of 2004, the E.U. will take over peacekeeping in Bosnia and NATO will expand its presence in Afghanistan, ostensibly to train the Afghan military personnel.

Shrinking defence budgets and rising expenditure on sustaining an aging population are listed as causes for the lack of the E.U.'s defence capability in global terms, but it is not realised that European defence forces suffer from duplication.