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EU Independent Defence Plans Worry Washington

BRUSSELS: NATO ambassadors held a special meeting on Monday to discuss the possible impact an independent European Union (EU) defence structure would have on NATO.

EU's plan for an independent defence arm has increasingly got on Washington's nerves.

The row between the two sides was triggered in April, when France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg, fresh from their face-off with the United States over the Iraq War, agreed at a summit to set up a military planning organization for EU crisis management.

This endeavour, which threatens to undermine NATO, has come under mounting pressure from Washington.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld demanded more transparency and clarification of what was going on at an informal meeting of NATO defence ministers early this month.

However, the EU seemed to have turned a deaf ear to the US call and decided to press ahead with their independent defence plans.

The joint meeting results from increasing bitterness on the part of Washington over the EU's independent defence ambitions, which US Ambassador to NATO Nicolas Burns criticized as a waste of the alliance's scarce resources and a "most serious threat to the future of NATO."

Since World War II, NATO has been providing security cover for Western Europe, which is the foundation of US global strategy and one of the primary measures for ensuring its domestic security.

Washington is firm in blocking every effort for defence independence by the growing European Union.

The EU attempt to incorporate a mutual defence clause into its constitution startled Washington. And the constitutionalization of the military structure would cause further alarm as it would be more legally binding on the pro-US countries like Britain and Spain, leading to a Europe independent of the United States in terms of defence.

Washington charged that the EU failure to report to NATO on the progress of its independent defence project shows its distrust in its ally across the Atlantic. In response to the charge, the EU said the plan is still under discussion and EU member nations have yet to reach an agreement.

Washington's concerns grew after a meeting among the leaders of France, Germany and Britain in Berlin three weeks ago, at which London softened its resistance to the plan.

Although British Prime Minister Tony Blair reiterated that defence co-operation among EU members would not undermine NATO, London is widely known to have narrowed its differences with France and Germany over the matter.

However, a consensus has been reached among the EU leaders and peoples on an independent defence system.

"There can be no Europe without European defence," said French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin on the sidelines of last week's EU summit.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, the EU's rotating chairman said at a press conference at the end of the summit that Europe had started to move on its way toward defence independence and would press ahead with it.

(Xinhua News Agency October 23, 2003)

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