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French-German Army Corps Troubles Allies

EUROPE

By Francine S. KieferStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / May 29, 1992



BONN

GERMANY is having a tough time convincing its NATO allies that the creation of a German-French army corps would strengthen, rather than weaken, the Alliance.

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The United States, Britain, and the Netherlands have strong reservations about the 35,000-man joint army, which was officially launched at a German-French summit last week.

The controversial corps was a dominant theme at a two-day meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels this week. US Defense Secretary Richard Cheney said the plan for the corps was ambiguous, adding that the corps must serve to strengthen NATO. If it did not, he said, the Frenco-German corps would prove to be "destructive."

One of several concerns is that the corps lays the groundwork for a European army which would exclude the US and eventually shunt NATO, the most important channel for American influence in Europe. According to reports in the German media, Washington recently warned Bonn - via US Ambassador Robert Kimmitt and a letter from National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft - not to undermine NATO with the corps.

"What we don't want is that the French-German corps becomes the kernel of an independent European army," says an ambassador to NATO who supports the US position.

The essence of the problem with the Franco-German corps is that its founders approach it with different motives. While the Germans view the corps as a way to integrate France into Europe militarily and as a complement to NATO, the French find in it a way to deliver Europe from overbearing American influence and a means to skirt NATO. In Brussels, German Defense Minister Volker Ruhe said Bonn wants the corps to be under NATO supreme command, but admitted that the French have not yet signed on to this conc ept.

If French intentions prevail, security experts warn, it could convince the US Congress that American troops are no longer needed here. "I don't think there's a risk of a total US withdrawal, but where I think there may be a problem, is in the size of ... cuts," says the NATO ambassador, meaning that Congress could mandate a troop reduction far beyond what Europeans want.

An adviser to German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who asked not to be named, admits there are "theological" differences in the two countries' approach to the corps. But he argues that these will be resolved and that NATO allies should support the corps because it serves "to bring France back to the defense of Europe in a face-saving way."

Although France is a member of NATO, it withdrew from the alliance's integrated military command in 1963. Mr. Kohl's adviser says, however, that it would be unrealistic to imagine the corps as a vehicle to rejoin France to the military side of NATO.

The Germans, meanwhile, have their own reasons for backing the Franco-German corps, which they call the Euro-corps, and hope other European nations will join.

Primarily, they see the corps as a way to keep French soldiers in Germany. Already the Canadians have decided on a near total pullout from Germany, citing budget pressure at home and the end of the massive security threat from the Warsaw Pact. "Once one major country withdraws, it has an effect on all the others," Kohl's adviser says.

An allied military presence in their country is important to Germans because east Germany is still home to former Soviet troops and because Germany views Eastern Europe as unstable. Bonn also reasons that allied soldiers in Germany send a reassuring signal to its neighbors that Germany is firmly anchored in the West and will not repeat the horrors of the past.

By establishing the German-French corps, which Kohl's adviser says could serve in a conflict in or out of Europe in which NATO either does not or cannot participate, the Germans are also "very cautiously preparing the groundwork" for a change in their constitution that would allow Germany to deploy troops outside the NATO area. This would help Germany "to grow into a larger role" of responsibility in the world, the adviser says.