Friday, March 11, 2005

EU Shock: Troops May Have to Fight

NATO's Secretary General, Dutchman Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, seems to know a thing or two about expectation management.

Talking to El Pais yesterday, he sought to remind European leaders that soldiers, to be effective, may sometimes be called on to fight.

"Why is the EU creating battle groups?" he asks rhetorically. "It is not just to help rebuild a country. It may be, that to keep the peace, combat is necessary."

He also pours some cold water on the distinction, much vaunted within the EU, between the "hard power" (military) of the US and NATO, and the "soft power" (essentially diplomacy) championed by the EU (as in the attempt to deal with Iran´s nuclear ambitions by the so-called "EU 3" - France, Germany and Britain).

A nicely-judged intervention from the NATO chief. It makes explicit what some of the more pacifist EU participants, such as Germany and Sweden, may prefer not to have spelled out too clearly, but which needs to be spelled out now if tears are to be avoided later. One of the things which most hamstrung UN troops at Srebrenica, to take just one example, was the injunction that as mere "peacekeepers" they were not allowed to intervene with armed force even when that was transparently required. NATO wants to avoid being sucked into that kind of inactive turpitude. De Hoop Scheffer is trying to clear such nagging issues out of the way - before soldiers are formed into units. When soldiers are asked to do the work of diplomats and diplomats the work of soldiers, as seems to be the wish in certain European capitals, it raises expectations which can only be dashed. Good that NATO sees it this way, and even better that the EU will be made to see it too.

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