By Thomas Abraham LONDON, NOV. 26. Britain and France have called for the creation of a 50,000- 60,000-strong European armed force that would give the European Union the military capability to act autonomously of the United States in a crisis. In a move that has caused nervousness in Washington, the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, and the French President, Mr. Jacques Chirac, called on the E.U., at its summit in Helsinki next month, to endorse their proposals to create this new force. Both leaders were, however, anxious to calm U.S. fears that this new force would undermine NATO as well as the U.S. role in maintaining security in Europe. Mr. Blair said that their proposals would strengthen European military capabilities in a way that would ``both reinforce and complement the NATO Alliance'' while at the same time ``enabling Europe to act in situations where the Alliance as a whole is not engaged''. The move to create a European defence force was spurred by the crisis in Kosovo, where Europe found itself unable to act without U.S. leadership. At present, Europe has neither the military capabilities, nor the political and military mechanisms to intervene in a crisis. The two leaders said yesterday that the Kosovo crisis had ``reinforced our conviction that the European nations need to increase their defence capabilities, thus enabling them to conduct effective E.U.-led operations as well as playing their full role in Alliance operations.'' The U.S. has been trying to persuade both countries to make any proposed European force subordinate to NATO, so that NATO would in effect have a right to decide whether or not the European force went into action. But a communique issued after yesterday's Anglo-French summit made it clear that the new force would give the E.U. ``the autonomous capacity to take decisions'' as well as ``launch and then conduct E.U.-led military operations'' in situations where the NATO as a whole was not engaged. Part of this force would be capable of rapid deployment, while the force as a whole would be deployed in 60 days. Mr. Blair and Mr. Chirac said the European force would have to be ``militarily self-sufficient up to Corps level'' and would be backed by naval and air capabilities. They said the new force would have ``the full range of capabilities necessary to undertake the most demanding crisis management tasks''. The two leaders also called for European strategic airlift capabilities, an area in which Europe is almost wholly dependent on the U.S. at present, to be strengthened. As a first step, Britain and France signed an agreement to pool their transport assets in a crisis. France has for long been in favour of an independent European force, and with Germany had taken steps towards forming a European Corps with personnel from five nations. That will be transformed into a rapid reaction force as well. It is not clear how this will be integrated into the new European force that Britain and France envisage. The real surprise is Britain's enthusiastic support for the idea of a European force. Traditionally, while France has urged a European force, Britain has put its foot down and argued that this will undermine U.S. influence in Europe. Mr. Blair is as pro-American as any of his predecessors, but he seems detrmined to push ahead with this idea, even at the cost of irritating his good friend, the U.S. President, Mr. Bill Clinton. What the rest of the world will be looking at will be the rules of engagement for this new force. It is not clear whether it will only be deployed within the territory of the Euroepan Union, or whether it would be used to intervene in non- E.U. member-States. If it is deployed outside the boundaries of the E.U., this force could give Europe the ability to project military power outside the continent, into West Asia and Africa for example. At present, only the U.S. has the ability to project its power globally. But this new force could mark the first step towards the emergence of an European military superpower.
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