EU Set to Agree 5,000-Strong Response Force in Defense Push

The European Union was set to approve Monday a new defense strategy designed to increase the bloc’s capacity to act, including setting up a 5,000-strong rapid reaction force.

The plan — in the pipeline for two years — has undergone a last-minute rewrite to increase the focus on the threat from Russia after Moscow invaded Ukraine.

“It’s not the answer to the Ukrainian war, but it is part of the answer,” EU foreign policy Josep Borrell said ahead of a meeting of the bloc’s foreign and defense ministers.

“When we started working, we couldn’t imagine that at the last moment of approval the situation would be so bad and Europe would be facing such a big challenge.”

EU leaders have described Russia’s assault on Ukraine as a wake-up call that their 27 nations have to take a more muscular approach to their security.

US-led military alliance NATO has for decades provided the bedrock for European defense and the war in Ukraine has reinforced the insistence among many EU members to keep Washington close.

But there has also been a push led by France for the bloc to bolster its own capacity to act.

The new strategy — set to be formally signed off by leaders at a summit later this week — is designed to boost defense cooperation between EU states.

“We will be working in order to make us stronger militarily and use our capacities in a more coordinated way,” Borrell said.

Central to the proposal is the establishment, by 2025, of an “EU Rapid Deployment Capacity” of up to 5,000 troops that could be sent into hostile environments.

The push for the force gained momentum during the West’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan last year when Europe found itself reliant on the United States for evacuations.

A draft seen by AFP said the force would have land, air, and maritime components and could be used “in different phases of an operation in a non-permissive environment, such as initial entry, reinforcement, or as reserve force to secure an exit.”

EU leaders meeting at a summit in France this month vowed to significantly step up their defense spending in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The draft document gave no firm details and said that EU nations would “define objectives on increased and improved defense spending” by mid-2022.

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