The issue of the so-called European Rapid Reaction force or European Army is back on the agenda in the light of the recent developments in Afghanistan. The need for this European force has allegedly come about because sizeable numbers of troops are allegedly needed in Afghanistan. But what European generals know and what Europe's political leaders must also realise is that it is nothing more than a paper army, and is badly equipped and lacks the necessary fire-power to even operate in a minor conflict. The European armed services have been cut back to the bone and these days it is not a question of the United States having more it is a question of them just having far superior equipment which is light years ahead of what is available in Europe. The United States has stealth bombers, invisible to radar already in service, Europe is still awaiting the Eurofighter which has been on the drawing board for the last two decades. Even a layman can see the difference in equipment between the British troops in Afghanistan and their U.S. counterparts. If you take away their rifles the Royal Marines guarding Kabul airport could be reminiscent of a scene from the 1940s. If Europe wants an army then each member state must increase the size of its defence budget and start ordering some of the kit presently available to the U.S. armed services. Otherwise the European Force will be a paper army badly equipped and under-funded and unable to contribute much to the new high technology battle-field. Already there is a Europe-wide arguement about the European force an almost laughable state of affairs when you consider the quality of Europe's kit.
Tuesday it's Nuremberg
It is hard to keep up with Tony Blair - either with where he is or with what he is saying. On Tuesday he was in Nuremberg, Germany, praising his good friend Gerhard Schroder, the German Chancellor, for his leadership in insisting that Germany should be prepared to play a military role in Afghanistan. Gerhard is leading Germany where Germany has to go, Mr Blair told the Social Democrats' party congress. He also told the congress that under Labour's leadership it was Britain's true destiny to be a full partner with Germany and others in the development of the European Union. He restated his belief that Britain should join the euro after a referendum. And those who may have thought that the European Rapid Reaction Force had been conveniently forgotten under the pressure of recent events heard the prime minister reiterating his belief in its importance. In one of the less predictable passages of his speech he gave support to Germany's case for permanent membership of the UN Security Council.
Perhaps Mr Blair felt safe in making such a commitment knowing that before it could be delivered the Security Council would have to be radically reformed and that none of the existing members - Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States - want to see their powers diminished. In any case, it is difficult to see why Europe should want to claim three members (four with Russia) while Asia has only one (two with Russia) and Africa and Latin America none at all.