London (CNSNews.com) - Two leading Republican Senators Thursday became the latest American politicians to voice grave concerns about the European Union's planned rapid reaction force.
Jesse Helms and Gordon Smith, chairmen of the foreign relations committee and European affairs sub-committee respectively, warned in an open letter published in the Daily Telegraph that the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) initiative could destroy NATO.
ESDP should not be allowed, they said, to end up achieving what the Soviet Union had been unable to do during the Cold War - end the trans-Atlantic alliance.
"During the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan defeated anti-NATO sentiments within Europe which were fueled by Moscow's efforts to divide America and Europe," the Senators wrote.
"Today, it is worth noting that among ESDP's most enthusiastic supporters is President Vladimir Putin of Russia, who openly advocates the abolition of NATO."
The intervention by Helms and Smith suggests that the incoming Bush administration will be deeply skeptical of the need for, and motivation behind, the ESDP plan.
By contrast, outgoing Secretary of State Madeleine Albright last month co-wrote an article with her British counterpart, Robin Cook, arguing the case for ESDP, in the face of considerable opposition in the UK.
On the other hand, Defense Secretary William Cohen, in a farewell speech to NATO, warned against any European move that could turn the Alliance into a "relic of the past."
EU leaders meeting in France on Dec. 8 agreed on the formation of a 60,000-strong force, to be deployed at 60-day notice for peacekeeping and other operations not involving NATO.
While the British government presented the decision as a victory and said it had countered attempts by the French to insist that the force's operations be independent of NATO, the Conservative Party opposition pointed out that the agreement had failed to set up any formal links with the Alliance.
Although they did not mention France by name, Helms and Smith in their letter referred to the policies being pursued by Paris.
"European leaders should reflect carefully on the true motivation behind ESDP, which many see as a means for Europe to check American power and influence within NATO.
"It certainly explains the EU's hesitation in expanding the initiative's links with NATO and in accepting NATO operational planning capabilities for ESDP military missions."
In language echoing that long used by the UK Conservatives, Helms and Smith questioned the direction the EU is taking and the effect this will have on trans-Atlantic ties.
"It is in neither Europe's nor America's interests to undermine our proven national relationships in favor of one with a European super-state whose creation is being driven, in part, by anti-American sentiment," they said.
The Senators called on Britain and America to ensure that the ESDP becomes a complement to NATO, not a rival. "Otherwise, we will rule the day," they concluded.
Last October, Conservative defense spokesman Iain Duncan Smith announced that a future Conservative government would "put paid to any divisive and political notion of a Euro Army. We want to improve European defense capabilities - but within NATO, never outside it."