Europe's Army?

By Paul Ames
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Although the numbers rushed to Mali are relatively small, French troops still had to hitch rides on British and US heavy transport planes to get to West Africa.

Strategic airlift has been a long-term problem that should be solved with the delivery of new A400M transport planes being built by Airbus. France has ordered 50 of the new heavy lifters, with the first three due to arrive in the second half of this year.

Another shortfall are drones and surveillance satellites that could prove crucial if French troops have to pursue small groups of Islamists through northern Mali's scrub and desert terrain.

"They need eyes in the sky that can track in real time moving targets," Tigner says. Once again, they may have to rely on British or American help.

Although the French government has been quick to thank allies for such support, there's resentment that other European countries haven't been more forthcoming with help.

"Europe cannot always give responsibility to one member state," Arnaud Danjean, a French politician who chairs the European Parliament's subcommittee on security and defense, said Wednesday.

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Even though European countries agree the threat from Islamists in Africa's Sahal region concerns them all, he complained, none have offered combat troops, leaving France to singlehandedly serve as Europe's army.

French officials have long complained that efforts to give the European Union a defense role have floundered because members have lacked either the resources or the political will to send troops into the world's hotspots.

Military spending has been shrinking across Europe for years: the United States, which provided half of NATO's defense budget during the Cold War, now pays 75 percent.

Even countries with large armies are unable or unwilling to deploy them. Although Germany maintains almost 200,000 troops, fewer than 9,000 are estimated to be available for overseas deployment - even in the unlikely event the government would be willing to send them.

"Many Europeans send soldiers on peacekeeping missions, but as we saw in Libya, as we see in Mali, not so many countries are willing to do real shooting, or fighting, or bombing," says Daniel Keohane, head of strategic affairs at the think tank FRIDE. "There's clearly a deep division among European member states over how to use forces."

In 2007, European Union members signed up to a system that rotates responsibility for maintaining two highly mobile "battlegroups," 1,500-strong units on standby for emergency deployments. However, there's never been agreement to use them.

The most the EU could consent to do in Mali was to send a 450-strong training mission for the country's enfeebled army.

"France has intervened because the problem in the Sahel threatens to blow up into a serious threat to Europe. It has gone in alone because the other Europeans have shirked their responsibility," the Germany daily Suddeutsche Zeitung wrote last week. "That says a lot about the state of the common European security and defense policy. And none of it is good."

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