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U.S. Proposes 'More Positive' Vision of NATO-EU Partnership

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

BIRMINGHAM, England, Oct. 10, 2000 – The United States must develop a clearer, "more positive" vision of the NATO- European Union partnership, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said Oct. 10 to NATO defense ministers here.

"I am convinced that a close, coherent, cooperative and transparent relationship will prove to be in the best interest of allies and European Union members, both current and future, and further our overarching vision for the entire Euro-Atlantic community in all its political, social and security dimensions," he said.

The policy shift elevates the European Union military capability to the same level as NATO. "It is clear that in the future NATO will no longer be the only major multilateral structure with a role in responding to crises, including military crises, which could affect European stability and security," Cohen said.

Cohen said it is important that "the Alliance and the European Union have the necessary military capabilities to perform their respective missions."

Cohen's statements mark a departure for the United States, which while publicly supporting the quest for a European Defense Identity had reservations that it would pull NATO and the European Union apart.

Cohen said NATO would continue to be the anchor of U.S. engagement in European security matters. But, he said, it is natural that an increasingly integrated Europe should want its own security and defense policies and the military capabilities to back them up.

"Let me be clear on America's position: We agree with this goal -- not grudgingly, not with resignation, but with wholehearted conviction," he said.

He said European fears of an eventual U.S. withdrawal from Europe have "no foundation in fact or in policy." He said it would be "likely" if there was consensus in Europe to undertake a military operation that the United States would also participate.

"In addition, it is difficult to imagine a situation in which the United States was prepared to participate, but our European allies would prefer to act alone," he said.

Cohen said developing the relationship between NATO and the European Union must take into consideration four basic facts.

First, NATO and EU efforts to strengthen European security must be coherent and mutually reinforcing. Second, the two organizations must deal with the other as equals. Third, close, frequent contacts between the organizations are imperative. Finally, there can be no discrimination against the member states of either organization.

Complicating the situation is the fact that membership in the two groups only partially overlaps. The 15-nation European Union is composed of Austria, Finland, Ireland, Sweden, and 11 NATO members -- Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and United Kingdom. The eight NATO allies not in the EU are Canada, Czech Republic, Hungary, Iceland, Norway, Poland, Turkey and the United States.

Cohen said all countries willing to provide forces should have input into planning, force structure and force goals. This consolidated NATO-EU defense planning process -- a "European Security and Defense Planning System" -- would enable all 23 countries to track how each meets the NATO and EU goals, he said.

Under Cohen's proposal, the deputy supreme allied commander, Europe, who would become the "force generator" and "strategic coordinator" between NATO and the EU.

Cohen said he is convinced that, practically, these proposals can work. He said his proposals would encourage the European allies to take on increased responsibilities "in their own backyard" and help make NATO and EU capabilities mutually supportive.

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