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By Joseph Ralston and Klaus Naumann

August 16 2004. The FT reported that, confirmation on Monday that the US intends to withdraw up to 70,000 troops – or almost a third of its military presence – from abroad, most of them from western Europe, should focus minds in London, Paris and Berlin about the European Union’s role in global security policy.

After years of unfulfilled promises at Nato summits and EU security conferences to strengthen their defence capabilities, Europe’s leaders must turn this political agenda into operational reality. Their defence commitments were made with an ambitious security agenda in mind: by the end of 2004, the EU will take over peacekeeping in Bosnia, and Nato will expand its presence in Afghanistan and help train the new Iraqi security forces. This agenda is good for both European and US interests, as an expanded European presence in these regions will contribute to global security and, in so doing, strengthen the transatlantic partnership.

Recent strategy statements from both Nato and the EU have recognised that Europe’s security is inextricably linked to threats emanating from outside Europe’s borders, such as failed states, regional conflicts and weapons proliferation. These threats are often resolved using diplomatic tools, but not always. Sometimes the use of military force is required. While such action would most likely be taken in a Nato context, it is conceivable that Europe might have to act alone.

Europe has a global security role to play and needs the kind of military forces that will enable it to play that role. Unfortunately, its existing military capabilities, on the whole, do not provide the necessary tools. Operations in Bosnia Herzegovina, Sierra Leone, the Congo and Afghanistan have strained European military forces – forces originally designed for territorial defence rather than projecting and sustaining power abroad. In Kosovo, European air forces lacked the precision-guided munitions to contribute more than 15 per cent of the total air sorties. In addition, several European militaries lack critical capabilities in communications, surveillance and the like (known as C4ISR), and in lift and expeditionary logistics, which greatly limits their operational effectiveness.

The most frequently cited reason for Europe’s defence capability shortfalls is small and shrinking defence budgets. Downward pressure on European defence budgets will only grow as burgeoning elderly populations drive up social spending. These pressures will create a new imperative for European militaries: spend more smartly to get more capability for each euro. Collectively, European defence forces suffer from unnecessary duplication in areas ranging from infrastructure (such as headquarters and training bases) to deployable military assets (such as fighter aircraft and tanks). More worryingly, Europeans also spend large sums on capabilities that are inefficient or outmoded. If such trends continue, Europe’s already strained ability to conduct integrated military operations will be further eroded over the next decade – and dangerously so. In response, the EU and Nato have launched initiatives in recent years to improve existing capabilities and generate new ones within tight budgetary constraints. If these initiatives are to be meaningful, they must be better conceived and better co-ordinated.

In the long term, the only way to address existing shortfalls is through greater defence integration, which would involve co-ordinating efforts across Europe to create a more interdependent set of collective defence capabilities. At the same time, integration should not limit the ability of individual nations to carry out or opt out of specific military missions. There are various integration strategies European leaders could pursue. First, countries could pool national resources to field additional combined units or capabilities at lower c

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