Europe `needs special forces and better spies'

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The Independent Online
CONFIDENTIAL documents drawn up for Europe's 10 top military powers reveal drastic deficiencies in military capability, in the areas of airlift, special operations, intelligence-gathering and psychological warfare, among others.

The audit of Europe's defence capabilities seen by The Independent also provides a blueprint for the European Union's ambitious plans to create a military force for peace-keeping and crisis intervention.

"Efforts are needed to strengthen European capabilities," the document says. Among the deficiencies mentioned are the inability to provide medical aid for civilians in the event of nuclear, biological or chemical attacks and, more prosaically, a system to exchange classified documents.

The findings are significant as Javier Solana, the EU's special representative for foreign affairs, takes on a second post this week as the secretary general of the Western European Union (WEU), the defence alliance that published the confidential report. He is likely to use the paper's conclusions to support his plans to boost the EU's military capabilities.

The Kosovo crisis exposed huge gaps in Europe's defences, with some strategic tasks having to be left to America. European powers depended heavily on the US to provide satellite intelligence. The document argues for a coherent intelligence and information pooling policy in Europe and better access to high-resolution commercial and military satellite images. It also argues for better co-operation between the WEU satellite centre, the EU and Nato.

Mobility emerged as a key weakness and the document called for forces to be available at shorter notice, including "immediate reaction" and "rapid reaction". At present, getting large numbers of men into war zones presents problems unless there is help from the United States. A "Eurolift" force, along the lines of the vast US military airlift command, should be set up to move troops quickly, the report said. Other proposed reforms would make more transport ships and aircraft including civilian charters available on short notice.

It identifies the need to boost intelligence gathering and sharing, air and sea transport, harmonised planning procedures and an ability to react to regional conflicts.

Military chiefs are also concerned about the difficulties of dealing with forces from a range of different countries, calling for a "single crisis management manual" and standard operating procedures.

The document highlights reforms needed to sustain troops in the field, with better logistical support, improved communications and headquarters capable of joint operations and common command and control.

Special operations need to be beefed up and, the document argues, "search and rescue capabilities should be capable of covering a hostile environment". It also argues that "capabilities for conducting psychological operations should be developed" and calls for enhanced medical support.

Diplomats have been surprised at the speed with which plans to boost EU defence have gathered pace. A meeting of EU defence and foreign ministers last week pushed ahead with proposals to earmark a rapid reaction force of about 40,000 men for peace-keeping and crisis management missions.

At next month's Helsinki summit, EU heads of government are expected to back the plan, although the details of the decision-making structure are still proving controversial.