SPEECH TO THE EUROPEAN REFORM DEBATE
By Howard Wheeldon, Senior Strategist at BGC Partners
05 Sep 11. 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