EUROPE'S DECISION to pledge about 100,000 troops, 400 aircraft and 100 ships to a new rapid reaction force opens the prospect of a new era of crisis intervention and peace-keeping well beyond the EU's borders.
Yesterday's conference of defence and foreign ministers committed an impressive catalogue of men and machinery to the European force, but acknowledged there were gaps that need to be filled in areas such as lifting, communications and intelligence.
The geographical areas of operation, however, remainvague. While the 19-nation Nato alliance is constrained to the "North Atlantic area", the EU has not prescribed such a limit.
Geoff Hoon, Britain's Secretary of State for Defence, said the force's activities would be confined to "Europe and its back yard" in its early stages, while noting that "there is no formal geographical limit".
His French counterpart, Alain Richard, argued earlier this month that the defence initiative "signifies that we are not limiting our zone of influence to our continent alone".
Mr Richard used East Timor as an example of a region in need of better crisis intervention from the EU. While many assumed the Balkans, the Caucuses and North Africa were the flash-points in which the force might be used, a British official said "Mozambique, Sierra Leone, even East Timor" would also have benefitted.
Does this represents a grand expansion of Europe's military muscle? Only up to a point. The rapid reaction force is designed to perform the so- called Petersberg tasks, which include humanitarian and evacuation missions, peace-keeping, and combat missions for crisis management including those to restore peace.
And despite the …