November 20, 2000
The Romans had a word for it. Decimation. When a Roman soldier was killed they would line up all the local adult, male citizenry, pick every tenth man and kill him. Not terribly nice. The same is not going to be happening to the British armed forces. The good news is that British troops are not going to be killed, merely placed in harms way at the dictate of foreign bureaucrats. The bad news is that it is not just going to be one in ten, but half the Royal Navy, a quarter of the army and a quarter of the Royal Air Force. The European Union has demanded that we dedicate our forces to it, and we have responded generously. How kind of us.
Why does Europe need this? This is truly bizarre. After all our elected leaders, who surely would never lie to us, have told us that Europe is not going to be a state. Tony Blair said that he wished to help make Europe "a superpower but not a superstate". How very third way of him. Our foreign secretary, Robin Cook, probably after a particularly violent drinking binge or has he got rid of this along with his Euro-scepticism said that the creation of a Euro state was "the biggest myth about Europe". So why, foreign secretary, are we devoting half our navy to this myth? To disprove it? The fact is that a trade association no more needs an army than it needs a flag. Oops, the EU already has one of those. OK, it no more needs an army than it needs its own currency. Or a common passport. Or a single criminal code. Or an anthem. After all, it's not a superstate, is it?
CALL IT MARY-ANN
I am not sure that Rome, during either its rise or its fall, ever rivaled Europe for the clown-like behaviour of its leadership. Take this following quote from Romano Prodi, the President of the European Commission:
"When I was talking about the European army I was not joking. If you don't want to call it a European army, don't call it a European army. You can call it "Margaret," you can call it "Mary-Ann," you can find any name, but it is a joint effort for peace-keeping missions-the first time you have a joint, not bilateral, effort at European level."
Well, that sure got the existentialist vote. Why, if we are not building a state, does this non-state-thingy need an army? This is not a unified command against a common threat like NATO was. This is an army to project the power of a, well, trade agreement. The fact is that by saying that this is a superpower but not a superstate is nuanced beyond the point of nonsense.
We know why Europe wants an army, as a part of building a sovereign and unitary state, although us Brits will not be told until it has already happened. Nevertheless, is it in our national interest in accepting this enormously risky proposition? The person in charge of about a third of our active servicemen will not even be British, but German, and so will not be answerable to a British government. This is not a matter of petty nationalism; it is about the crucial issue of democratic control of our armed forces. If our armed forces are not being controlled by someone accountable to our elected government, then what check will we have over them? I am not suggesting that they would use British troops to put down British unrest (now that would be risky), but that we know where British troops would go.
The European Union is going east. All the British parties are in favour of this, not so secretly hoping that this will dilute the Franco-German dominance of European affairs. To be honest it may have a slight bias in this direction but there is a massive strategic downside. The European security apparatus will effectively mean that we are obliged to protect the new members. There are two problems here. While I do not hold that German influence in Eastern Europe is necessarily a bad thing the area has no strategic bearing on us neither do I think that it is worth risking the bones of an Irish grenadier. The other problem is more pertinent mother Russia. Russia may be poor and beaten but it is still a large country with a large military, a fierce national pride and rich natural resources. While it may have been necessary to fight a cold war against its communist government, it was not a picnic. Russia should only be fought, like any other power, when there is a genuine threat to our survival. At the moment, Russia does not pose such a threat. However, Russia does not see it the same way, with a newly united European military expanding into Eastern Europe. At the least we should recognise and discuss the dangers that this poses. Fat chance.
British euro-sceptics have been getting very confident lately. The threat of an imposition of the Euro has greatly receded, the British public are just too hard to convince and the arguments for the Euro are just embarrassingly feeble. However, the understandable concentration on the Euro has meant that the euro-sceptics have largely taken their eye off the ball from other substantive issues. The European model of jurisprudence is creeping into British courtrooms and a large swathe of Common Law guarantees such as habeas corpus, the presumption of innocence and trial by jury are being phased out. Similarly, British armed forces are slipping away from British command, and therefore democratic control. This is a constitutional issue of earth shattering importance. Is anyone listening?
I have had a bit of an upswing in my post bag this week as a result on my piece saying that I want Al Gore to be President. All my correspondents were too polite to point out the obvious that as a Limey I have no real right to comment on another country's internal situation but the point remains valid. However the two points that were overwhelmingly made that Bush is a better person than Gore, and that Gore is stealing an election are both good points, but I would respectfully suggest irrelevant. Firstly Bush may be far better on the issues, and more resemble a human being, than his opponent does. However politics is shaped less by the main players than by "events, dear boy, events" (who said that?). Events, dear boy, have emasculated the government no bad thing in peacetime. So it does not matter, this is no longer (if it ever was) the most important result since 1860. Secondly, ballot fraud is neither new nor unusual in any close race in any democracy. In old blighty we had a referendum in Wales, were the devolutionists won through a large number of ballots called in the last area to report. Only the extremely gullible believe that this was legitimate. I am not saying that this behaviour is acceptable, but nor is it the end of democratic government. The task is to use the shameless ballot rigging for your own advantage and not to let the Democrats make the myths this time.
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