December 11, 2000
One should be shocked, shocked, to find out that the British public has been lied to again. Unfortunately there have been no calls for resignation of Geoff Hoon, the defence secretary, and nor will there be. Lying to Parliament just has no stigma attached to it any more; in fact, it seems to have rather a cachet under New Labour. The subject is that of the European Army, or it would be but for the Hoonigan's first lie. It is not an army, he insists, but a rapid reaction force. Of course the European Commission President said "you can call it Margaret, you can call it Mary-Ann" but he insisted it was an army. The French president has also insisted that it is to have its own coordination and planning roles, something unnecessary to some ad-hoc force that just goes around reacting to things. So there will be an army. This would be mere semantics, if it were not for the fact that about 50% of the British people support a rapid reaction force with just over 30% supporting a European Army. This leads on to lie number two. In the pathetic way that is so common of parliamentarians today, he cooed on another occasion that the opinion polls were on his side. As they were only on his side about a rapid reaction force, which is not on offer, and not on the European Army, that was lie number two.
Then there was the third lie; the Americans were for it. Now this may be broadly true, President Clinton after all has won the highly lucrative and "prestigious" Charlemagne prize for his contribution to European Unity, but there is some dissent. The Hoonigan stated that Richard Cohen, a Republican no less, was in favour of this. He selectively quoted him to twist his words, in reality an agonising balancing of the pros and cons, into an unqualified endorsement (Albright's for it though). Well that was stupid, but with the supine nature of the Television news, mostly broadcast by the state owned BBC, not something that will be seen. That was until Mr. Cohen said what he had said before, but this time in a less confused way. NATO was in danger of becoming "a relic" (interestingly he still professes to believe in the Rapid Reaction Force - but no one professes to believe his professions). It seems that either, the British ambassador in Washington was keeping the facts from his political masters; or that a minister of the crown was lying to Parliament and therefore the people. What do you think happened?
Isn't this a good thing? Now many of my long time readers will remember a piece I did on NATO, saying that with the end of the Cold War we should now just move on and wind NATO down. I still hold on to that. Plenty of anti-NATO people see British entry into the Euro-Army as a price worth paying for escaping NATO. Well to use a far too often quoted cliché this will be a case of leaving the frying pan to be at the heart of the fire. Think about the NATO commitment, it commits us to the German border, to the ex-Yugoslavia and to Turkey. These are good enough reasons to leave NATO, as few of these areas effect us. However, NATO does have a massive asset, America. This is not fair on America, to be sure, and it would be best served by leaving NATO, but think about it from a threat perspective. There is no real prospect of an invasion of America, or America needing European help in its back yard. Thus, America is an enormous asset to NATO. What would happen if we had all the liabilities (minus Turkey but probably with the Russian borders and North Africa) but fewer of NATO's troops? Would it mean that we were faced with fewer possible wars?
The fact is that where America was the linchpin for NATO, Britain and France will be the linchpins for the (more tightly integrated) European Army. There are simply no other countries with the requisite defence budgets, armies and will for the fight. Of course, Germany may provide some money; German soldiers are not exactly encouraged to go abroad. Although Turkey has a large army, Europe will not trust Turkey for one minute. Therefore, it will be those old friends Britain and France carrying this one. Of course while we will be expected to give plenty we will have a "voice" over the control of our armed forces, and we will find that countries like Portugal and Luxembourg will be deciding where British troops will go. Responsibility without power is not an attractive deal.
The European Army is a bad deal for Britain and Britain should stay clear. Will she? Despite the ferocious opposition showed the argument does not seem won. This is strange because the European Army is such a fundamentally bad idea that it should stand no chance whatsoever. Nevertheless, it does, and the blame for that lies with its opponents. NATO, we are told, will fall apart and America will leave us. This is powerful for those clever enough to realise the free lunch we are getting from America, but it is at best short term and at worst foolhardy. The simple fact is that America has no interest any more in Europe, and even the American government may get round to realising this, although not yet. The Cold War is over, there is no threat to America, there are no strategic benefits from staging troops in Europe. Moreover, the argument against European defence rests on the premise that the Americans will leave. The reality is that if the Americans see a benefit in having troops in a country they will keep them there. Few governments have the independence to tell them to go away. If however the Americans do not want to stay, they will pull out. The creation of some French fantasy force will not keep them here if they want to go.
Therefore, the Eurosceptics look like they are on the verge of a memorable home goal. A European initiative that strikes at both the symbols and substance of independence, which is a strategic disaster for Britain and which is unpopular when it is truthfully explained. However, this is not another Euro debate. With the Euro the Eurosceptics did not argue that the pound should be pegged to the dollar, they said that it should be independent, freely floating and responsive Britain's needs. If we had said that the pound should be pegged with the dollar, we would have lost. We are going to make this mistake this time around if we are not careful. Now the currency markets are considerably harder to explain than control of an army, so an independent currency was not an easy thing to sell. Nevertheless, it was sold, and the result is that on a straight question on joining the Euro the good guys will win.
Relying on the argument that this European Army will undermine NATO is excessively foolish, as America will leave us any way. We have to be honest with the British people and explain that we are able to defend our own patch. Britain's strategic interests are in effect easy to secure in an area as peaceful as Northern Europe. Weakening NATO was a concern twenty years ago, but the Berlin Wall has fallen and Russia is hardly a threat. The Euro-sceptics will have to realise that they are living in the world today rather than the early eighties. Their opponents realise this already, and they could win this crucial argument by default.
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