European Defense Agency Raising Hackles in U.S

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The creation of the European Defense Agency is sending ripples across the Atlantic and raising questions about Europe diverting resources away from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Trans-Atlantic tensions over European commitments to NATO have caused some leading U.S. officials in the alliance--notably U.S. Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns--to question whether a heightened focus on EU capabilities will further sap resources that could benefit the alliance.

Not so, EDA officials counter. Instead, they maintain that any improvements European defense establishments derived from the new agency will complement NATO and help solve some European shortfalls in materiel and organization.

Entering full operations in early 2005, the European Defense Agency will have a projected budget of 25 million euro a year--about $30 million--for the next six years. The rest of this year will be dedicated to getting the operation in gear, and for that, the agency will have 2.5 million euro ($3 million).

"The setting up of the EDA is a vital period, of course, where we determine that it will do a practical job [and] will not be overly-bureaucratic," Lord William Bach of Lutterworth, the United Kingdom's undersecretary of state and minister of defense procurement, told National Defense. "These early years.... will prove if we can really enhance European capabilities."

The United Kingdom and France, with support from Germany, have proposed this intergovernmental agency to be set up with in the European Union to supervise the development of military capabilities, research and armaments.

The agency also takes upon itself the creation of up to nine elite battle groups for rapid deployment to international trouble spots. With this plan, the EU will have up to 1,500 soldiers able to deploy to conflict areas within 15 days. The EU force would complement the 20,000-strong quick-reaction NATO Response Force the alliance began forging last year for the same purpose.

"Europeans are faced with a twofold obligation: to spend more on their defense and to spend better, [that is] organize themselves more effectively," said Laurent Giovachini, director of cooperation and industrial affairs at the French Ministry of Defense and France's armaments director within NATO and the EU. Giovachini recently spoke to U.S. industry officials.

"We are all actively seeking to improve the operation of the European defense market to make it more open and transparent," Bach said during a presentation at a U.K.-U.S. defense industry symposium in London sponsored by the National Defense Industrial Association. "It will benefit us in Europe to align us to more efficient industry that is better placed to understand both our requirements and deliver the capabilities that we need."

The agency will have several functions related to capability development, defense research and technology, management of cooperative programs and reinforcement of European industry, including the implementation of a European defense equipment market, Giovachini said in an interview.

"The agency will have to pursue and coordinate, or initiate, as soon as it will have been created, all the tasks entailed by these functions," he said.

According to Giovachini, the agency will help identify and implement measures for building up all industrial and technological base in the defense realm and assisting the European Commission in supporting initiatives to set up a competitive European defense market.

The first aim of the agency, Bach told National Defense, is to ensure that the 10 new members of the European Union will play their full part in European defense and tap into their "niche capabilities that other countries do not have."

"We also intend that it should lead to a more open system of cooperative equipment projects and it will have a role in that field as well," he added.

The agency will be able to draw upon the expertise of the EU military committee, made up of the chiefs of defense of the 25 member states, and of the EU's armament directors, according to Giovachini. …