Home | News    Tuesday 13 April 2004

EU-led forces ’could intervene’ in Sudan conflict

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By Judy Dempsey in Brussels, Financial Times

BRUSSELS, April 12, 2004 — The European Union’s top military official says EU-led forces could intervene in Sudan, where more than 670,000 people have fled the western region of Dafur following weeks of killings, rape and looting by Arab militias.

Although the Sudanese government and two rebel groups from western Dafur are negotiating a ceasefire, Kofi Annan, United Nations secretary-general, has said the international community "must be prepared to take swift action, which may include military action."

The surprise comments by Gustav Hägglund (pictured), who ends his three-year stint as the first chairman of the EU’s military committee this month, coincide with fresh efforts by Brussels to strengthen its defence capabilities.

In an interview with the Financial Times, General Hägglund said the possibility of the EU sending a force to Sudan had been raised by Louise Fréchette, the United Nations deputy secretary-general. "Sudan is on the list of the UN [for some form of peacekeeping mission]," Gen Hägglund added. The 65-year-old Finnish general was appointed Europe’s top military chief three years ago, when the EU had a fledgling military staff, no idea which military missions it would undertake and persistent ambiguities between Britain and France over the future role of European defence.

Since then, the EU has taken over a small Nato-led mission in Macedonia, quickly deployed a 1,500-strong military force to Bunia, Democratic Republic of Congo, last summer and will take over this year from Nato the large mission in Bosnia. The Congo mission last year was the EU’s first military mission outside Europe.

"There is no reason why the EU could not go to, for instance, Sudan. I see it to be very possible. It would be mandated by the UN. It is part of the battlegroup concept," said Gen Hägglund.

Britain and France are spearheading ambitious defence plans for the EU through their "battlegroups". The idea is that the EU should be able to deploy within days up to 1,500 highly trained troops, with tasks ranging from peacekeeping to combat missions operating under a UN mandate. Gen Hägglund said the battlegroups could allow the EU "to take on more and be able to sustain itself".

Despite these ambitions, European defence remains dogged by three issues. One is military capabilities. "There are some shortfalls, such as intelligence, transportation and offensive assets such as cruise missiles and the suppression of air defences [protecting aircraft]," said Gen Hägglund.

These deficiencies, he insisted, "would not prevent the EU from carrying out its tasks. They might delay them and increase the risks if we are not ready. Political will is decisive."

Much will depend on how Britain and France co-operate. Gen Hägglund agreed that since the 1998 St Malo summit, where both countries backed establishment of an EU rapid reaction force, both held different views over what European defence should become.

Britain sees it as a bridge for the Nato transatlantic alliance, France as a way for the EU to become more autonomous. "If the EU has too much autonomy, it will lead to duplication," said Gen Hägglund. "If it is too much focused on the Nato dimension, we would be seen as a servant of the US. I am more of the [Tony] Blair view. He said that the EU would neither be a competitor nor servant of the US but a partner. The issue is how to have the EU operate with Nato assets and not Nato operate with EU assets."

Washington is ambiguous over Europe becoming stronger in defence. It wants the EU to take on more burden-sharing in the Balkans, but the Pentagon does not want to lose political control over European defence. "A united and self-sufficient European security pillar should also be a US strategic interest," says Gen Hägglund.

"In the long run, threats may appear that the US is not willing or even able to counter on behalf of the Europeans. For the US, Europe is a sideshow. It is important the Europeans take responsibility and stop leaning on the Americans to do everything," he added.

"It is illogical, with a Europe of 450m people with 25 per cent of the world’s GDP, it cannot take care of its own area and security."

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