The call by Nicholas Burns, US ambassador to Nato, reflects
growing unease among Pentagon officials over the way Britain wants
to work more closely with its EU allies in building credible defence
structures and better military capabilities. But it also highlights
tensions in the transatlantic alliance, with the US seeing any
future EU defence policy as a potential competitor to Nato.
The US move came as EU leaders met last night to discuss how to
make European defence more effective in any new constitutional
treaty. The draft treaty is being negotiated in the intergovernment
conference that includes the 15 current member and 10 candidate
states that join next year.
British, French and German officials on Thursday said it was too
early to make any decisions over defence issues. "This is only the
beginning. We need a more coherent defence policy that will
complement Nato," said one British official.
Nevertheless, the Pentagon and the White House are particularly
concerned over how Tony Blair, UK prime minister, wants to
co-operate over defence with Germany and France, which opposed the
US-led attack on Iraq.
"Somehow the US believes that because Britain is considered its
staunchest ally, it cannot work with its EU allies," said one
European ambassador. "This is ridiculous. If Blair is involved in
Europe it means the transatlantic relationship is protected," he
Last month, Mr Blair held a summit in Berlin with French
President Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schröder of Germany. They
agreed on "structured co-operation" in which a group of countries
would take the lead in improving Europe's military capabilities.
France and Germany quietly dropped the idea of creating an
independent military headquarters in Tervuren, near Brussels,
something the US and Britain believed was a direct challenge to
Nato. However, Mr Blair conceded that the EU did need operation
planning headquarters if it was to carry out missions independent of
Mr Burns, a former US ambassador to Greece and State Department
spokesman, lambasted such plans at Wednesday's regular meeting of
Nato ambassadors. He said EU defence plans represented "one of the
greatest dangers to the transatlantic relationship". He insisted
Nato should know what kind of defence policies would be contained in
the new treaty.
Benoit D'Aboville, French ambassador to Nato, told Mr Burns Nato
had no business knowing about internal matters of the EU until they
were agreed by its members.
An EU diplomat said the US believed France was setting a hidden
agenda. "It believes Paris will use the trio to gradually strengthen
the EU's military capabilities and eventually move away from
British officials, who on Thursday played down the US criticisms,
said a Europe with better military capabilities and with Britain
involved would lead to greater burden-sharing, especially in the