Attempts to represent coherent European Union Common Foreign and Security Policy have so far included ESDI (European Security and Defence Identity (under NATO), ESDP (European Security and Defence Policy) and most recently, under the guiding hand of EU High Representative of Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Catherine Ashton, when she is around in Brussels, CSDP (the Common Security and Defence Policy). If anything these various bureaucratic organisations share one thing in common – they have all been littered with vast amounts of hope!
The European Security Strategy that was agreed in 2003 did have some particular merit in that while this attempted to simplify the process of agreeing a basis on which Europe might in future take a greater share of responsibility for its own security it held that NATO should remain the all embracing unit of power in terms of European defence.
Driven by France the latter event led in 2004 to the creation of the European Defence Agency – this on the back of some over ambitious ill thought out desires to improve military capability and security across Europe and no doubt a perception that in terms of procurement such a policy might provide a boost for the French defence industrial base.
Whilst Britain formally acquiesced to the above developments we have at the same time rightly maintained a view that any strategy adopted by the EU with regard to defence and security that risked damaging NATO or the special relationship between the US and Britain would be unacceptable.
Plan after plan, agency after new agency, ideal after new ideal and yet while it is true that the EU working in closer harmony on defence and security has produced positive results such as the ability to better provision for peacekeeping operations given the limited response from the majority of EU member governments to the provision of military support to the NATO led mission in Libya we in Britain should better re-affirm our long held view that European defence and security strategy should remain a matter for national governments and NATO.
NATO may not be perfect and it is true that Libya exposed serious weaknesses in the organisation that must now be addressed. In my view history is the best lesson of all and to that end NATO is the ultimate guarantor of safety and security in Western Europe. I may say that if Libya exposed weaknesses in NATO these bear little comparison to the intrinsic weaknesses that Libya exposed on the ideals of future European alliance on defence.
Let me remind – NATO consists of twenty-eight independent nations and yet of these leaving preliminary US involvement and use of Italian air bases aside only six NATO members stepped up to the plate in Libya – Britain, France, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Belgium.
Where was Germany, the powerhouse of the EU economy and the nation that above all others boasts such vast amounts of military capability and resource? Where was the truly shared response from a EU based alliance on defence and security in Libya and that had NATO not still been the ultimate power and guarantor would most likely have turned their backs? How can a European alliance in defence have credibility now when in the face of visible suppression of the Libyan people fighting for freedom some of those that would make up such an alliance would likely turn the other cheek?
How is it that if other NATO members such as Spain, Italy and the Netherlands involve themselves only in operations that do not involve actual combat and that as part of an EU defence force capability might not come to the support of their allies that we can have confidence that a truly European based defence alliance could work for the common good?
How wonderful it was and still is to see a country like Denmark that has just a handful of F-16’s, C130’s and Helicopters make virtually all its military capability over to NATO both in Libya and Afghanistan when nations such as Germany stand so aloof! It is the French government that has consistently driven the main desire to see an alternative military power to NATO emerge in Europe. Just perhaps the decision by France to come back into NATO command three years ago was, just as we recall that France had originally been part of the European Fighter Aircraft (EFA) program (now Eurofighter Typhoon) mainly with the aim of halting its development to protect its national defence industrial interests, might one say that intention of again being part of NATO is only to use this as an opportunity to further the goal of creating unified and integrated European controlled defence capability?
After all, during the Libyan operation it is well known that France conducted missions that were not under the direct control of NATO. We may remember that it was France that was the first Euro member state to fail the deficit test and to supposedly face the consequences of the fines imposed. Do as I say, not as I do!
Can we have confidence that an EU wide defence and security capability and strength using the combined might of all EU members could work to the advantage of all of us? I think not.
May I remind this audience that it was as Shadow Defence Secretary that Dr. Liam Fox observed back in 2007 “that for those who would seek to see a European army replace NATO defence procurement offers the perfect means of undermining the Special Relationship by stealth”?
Given the failure to manage their economies and struggling to save the single currency that they created and yet in terms of deficit and debt of member states failed to correctly police European governments including Britain, France, Germany are taking the knife to defence budgets. The US is also attempting to cut expenditure on defence and in doing so re-examining its long-standing commitment to maintaining forces in Europe. This may yet have serious implications for all of us although the US remains totally committed to the guiding principles of the NATA alliance.
Rather than cutting back on defence expenditure European governments should if less reliance is to be placed on US support be increasing expenditure. Note too that Europe remains light years behind the US in terms of capability and that the gap is now widening. Whatever happened to the dream of interoperability?
Are we to allow ourselves to drift away from a special relationship with the US that has in defence, security just as in foreign affairs worked so well for us here in Britain over so many years? I think not!
Should we allow ourselves to visibly see NATO weakened in order to pass the batten of European peace directive to a EU wide Common Foreign and Security Policy? I hope not!
While playing our full role in NATO as we have always done if there is one lesson that Britain must learn from the Libya campaign it is that some of our European allies may not always be trusted.
I believe that the consequences of changing what has worked so well in determining the peace and stability of Europe should be strengthened not weakened. NATO is and should be the overriding force and hand that guides us.
Libya has reminded us that there can be no holiday from history when it comes to maintaining adequate defence capability.
I am certainly not against our working more closely with new found NATO allies such as France as our government has a stated intention of doing with future carrier force but I am certainly against the idea of Britain accepting any restraint or loss on sovereignty imposed and created by the ideal of independent European defence.
I cannot believe that casting aside the many benefits of the special relationship between Britain and the US, of allowing NATO to be weakened, of giving away any resolve that we have to control foreign policy or to allow the existing strength of our military capability to carry the burdens of weakness of others or indeed, that we should allow our defence industrial strength and the capabilities that we have developed and built ourselves or with our partners to be weakened.
Howard Wheeldon is the Senior Strategist at BGC Partners