Auteur: Andrew Beatty
NATO defence ministers will meet today (1 December) at the alliance's Brussels headquarters with the EU's plans for common defence firmly at the top of the agenda.
Representatives will gather just hours after EU foreign ministers, meeting in Naples, reached a breakthrough on EU common defence, after months of wrangling.
Although the details of the plan are not yet clear, all the noises from European diplomats point to a deal on creating a separate EU military planning facility, allowing operations to be conducted independently of NATO.
Although controversial proposals for a planning headquarters seem to be off the table, apparent plans for a scaled-down planning unit may prove as contentious, with some NATO ambassadors calling the proposals "a Trojan horse" according to the Sunday Times.
Washington has repeatedly and on occasions noisily expressed concerns that an autonomous EU military capability would undermine NATO's role as the premier guarantor of security in Europe.
However a recent trip to Brussels by the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell appeared to usher in a period of more private feuding over defence plans.
But with Washington being represented on Monday by Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the sparks could fly.
Mr Rumsfeld has appeared at times to be almost instinctively sceptical of the EU increasing its collective military power.
It did not help that plans for independent EU military planning capabilities were first mooted at the height of tensions over the war in Iraq, by exactly those European countries which opposed the US-led intervention.
Giving journalists travelling with him a taste of things to come, Mr Rumsfeld hinted that he remains unconvinced by EU attempts to persuade Washington that it does not want to undermine the transatlantic alliance.
"I would say anything that puts at risk that institution [NATO] ...you'd have to have a very good reason for wanting to do it. And I think there's no reason for something else to be competitive with NATO, myself", he said.