Rumsfeld sidesteps showdown with EU over defence plan

The United States backed away from a showdown with Britain yesterday over defence, saying it was confident that any deal negotiated by Tony Blair with his European Union partners would not undermine the transatlantic Nato alliance.

Donald Rumsfeld, the hawkish and outspoken US Defence Secretary, went out of his way not to attack a deal struck by Britain, France and Germany that would, for the first time, give the European Union an operational military planning capability independent of Nato.

Washington's reservations about the scheme are the main reason that no formal announcement has been made, despite the fact that the detail of the plan was leaked to the French press last week.

Mr Rumsfeld, who is visiting Brussels for a two-day meeting of Nato defence ministers, did not endorse the package of measures. However, he said that he was "confident that things will sort through in a way that we have an arrangement that is not duplicative or competitive of Nato".

In an uncharacteristic display of diplomacy, he ducked questions as to whether the EU needed to have its own operational military planning capability. The Nato secretary general, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, also took care to avoid any direct attack on the EU's defence plans.

During his visit to Brussels, Mr Rumsfeld had sent out contradictory signals. When he arrived on Sunday he took a harder line, telling Washington-based reporters that countries would "have to have a very good reason" for wanting to do "anything that puts at risk" the Nato alliance. Countries benefiting from Nato's existence do not want "something that would inject an instability into it", he added.

His display yesterday will hearten supporters of the EU defence plan, indicating that the US has been convinced to hold off from any direct criticism of the unpublished plan. Detailed discussions are still taking place as London holds talks with "partners and allies" pending finalisation of the paper.

With domestic eurosceptics waiting in the wings to attack the plan, Mr Blair needs to ensure that neither Washington nor Nato attack it openly.

When the EU launched its rapid reaction force, Mr Blair was able to withstand an onslaught in the British eurosceptic media, and still emerge with support for the policy in the opinion polls. At that time, the US administration and Lord Robertson argued that the initiative would not undermine Nato.

The most sensitive element of the proposal is that the EU would, for the first time, have an autonomous operational planning capability, a long-term ambition of France and Germany. This would be created by beefing up a strategic planning cell that already exists in Brussels but would be an ad hoc arrangement for specific missions, rather than a standing facility.

Berlin and Paris agreed, in exchange, to give up their scheme to have a new military headquarters for the EU in the Brussels suburb of Tervuren. This is seen as vital by Britain, which worries that it would surrender influence over another EU initiative to the French and Germans, and would be unable to steer its development. While Britain insists the new blueprint would not undermine Nato, there are tensions inside Whitehall. The Secretary of State for Defence, Geoff Hoon, fuelled speculation yesterday that he is hostile to the plan by failing to give a press conference. Mr Hoon will meet Mr Rumsfeld today.

Meanwhile, Nato sources said they had received assurances from the UK that key issues have not been settled. Lord Robertson, echoed Mr Rumsfeld's caution. "I can't imagine anything being agreed by Prime Minister Blair in London that would undermine the integrity, strength and pre-eminence of Nato as the security organisation of first choice," he said. The issue of a military headquarters is being discussed as part of a wider package of measures on defence. The EU's draft constitution, which is due to be agreed at a summit of EU leaders next month, will outline plans for a groups of nations to co-operate on military issues.

It may also include a mutual defence clause, something that the UK is trying to weaken for fear that it will undermine the role of Nato.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
An asteroid is set to pass so close to Earth it will be visible with binoculars
news
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project