Old Rivals Unite in a Military Embrace
Marshall, Andrew, The Independent (London, England)
Even if the new Rapid Reaction Force for Bosnia never fires a shot in anger, it has already made its mark - as a decisive step towards cementing Britain and France as partners in European defence.
The two have been warily circling each other for years, like two large dogs sniffing each other's bottoms. This weekend they got down to business: the new Rapid Reaction Force is an Anglo-French operation.
There was no talk in Paris about the Eurocorps, a symbolic integration exercise launched by Paris and Bonn in 1991, nor of the Western European Union, chosen vehicle for a European defence identity, nor much about Nato. Germany, France's key European partner, is hardly a defence player; the US, Britain's main ally, has largely counted itself out of Bosnia.
For years, Nato has been trying to give Europe military clout without dismantling the Atlantic alliance. The solution was a Combined Joint Task Force. The idea was that, for crises, Nato could split bits of its forces off from the integrated military structure, forming multi- national, joint-service units.
Those could operate outside Nato, under the Western European Union, for example, if Europeans wanted to handle a crisis themselves. Nato (the Americans) might lend useful kit such as heavy aircraft, infrastructure or intelligence.
This has long been marred by a Paris-Washington fight over whether Nato (the US) would still be ultimately in charge, or the WEU. This power struggle over the Atlantic relationship's future has been resolved pragmatically. The Bosnia force is a combined joint task force, essentially under Anglo-French command despite UN cover.
The US position remains ambivalent. Despite saying last week that he might offer ground troops for UN forces' redeployment and evacuation, Bill Clinton backed off on coming under Congressional fire. The prospect of making cmbined joint task forces work as a fully-fledged Nato initiative look poor; instead, RRF-style ad hoc deals will probably be the model.
It was ironic that while this was being worked out at a Paris meeting of defence ministers, in Messina EU foreign ministers were commemorating events that kicked off European integration 40 years ago. …