EUROPEAN DEFENCE POLICY – 24 May 2016
Dr Julian Lewis: It is a pleasure to congratulate the hon. Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore) on taking his seat, and to endorse the tribute he paid to his predecessor. Huw Irranca-Davies is living proof of the fact that one can be a genuinely nice guy and still succeed in politics, and we will miss him.
Members of Select Committees are as divided as any other groups on the question of membership of the European Union, and so it should go without saying that in my remarks on this subject today I am speaking solely for myself. My concern is that the fixation of the European Union on creating a single European defence and foreign policy may make future conflict more likely rather than less. So why has NATO proved to be the most successful military alliance in history? The answer is clear: it is the deterrent effect of United States membership. Taken together with article 5 of the NATO charter, according to which an attack on any member country will be considered an attack on them all, this means that any would-be aggressor must face the prospect of war with the world’s most powerful state, the United States, right from the outset. If Germany had faced that prospect in 1914, not 1917, or in 1939, not late 1941, who knows but that those wars might not have begun, and all that suffering might have been avoided?
In order reliably to deter, collective security must combine adequate power with the virtual certainty that it will be brought into action if triggered by an act of aggression. On both grounds, NATO succeeds, and the European Union fails, as a collective security organisation. Since the US does not belong to the EU, the latter can muster only a fraction of NATO’s deterrent military power. Nor can there be any certainty that the US will respond to an attack involving EU member states outside the north Atlantic alliance. By trying to create its own foreign policy and its own military forces – which on typical European levels of defence investment will remain modest indefinitely – the EU risks reverting to the uncertainties of the pre-NATO era. The NATO guarantee is a solemn commitment to be willing to start world war three on behalf of a member country facing attack or invasion. NATO membership must not be proffered lightly nor extended to countries on behalf of which article 5 of its charter is simply not credible. Where security is concerned, it is dangerous folly to give promises and guarantees that we are in no position to fulfil, and the EU needs to be particularly careful in pursuing a foreign policy that gives promises of that sort.
In terms of deterring an external threat, the EU adds nothing to the exemplary role discharged by NATO. As for the threat of EU members attacking each other, there is certainly no risk of their going to war once again with each other as long as they remain free, democratic and constitutional. That is because constitutional democracies do not attack one another; instead, wars break out between dictatorships and other dictatorships, or between dictatorships and democracies.
Sir Gerald Howarth: Is it not absurd to suggest that peace in Europe might be destabilised by the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU? The fact is that before we became a member in 1973, Europe had managed for 28 years not to go to war with itself.
Dr Lewis: Indeed, and my hon. Friend anticipates a point I was just about to make. Looking at the internal threat, one sees not the slightest chance of members of the EU going to war with each other as long as they remain democratic and constitutional, but if they lose that element of popular democracy in their constitutions, all bets are off.
We heard warnings today about the rise of the far right in some EU member countries. Why is the far right – the extreme anti-immigration right – on the rise? It is on the rise because people feel that they are being disfranchised to some extent and the fate of their country is being decided instead by people whom they did not elect to power and whom they cannot remove. By trying to build a supranational state in Europe in the absence of a democratic mandate, the EU runs the risk of sowing the seeds of precisely the sort of conflict it seeks to abolish.
I know that in this Chamber today more voices have been raised in favour of remain than of leave, but I am not disheartened because I know that all those people campaigning to leave are out there, at the grassroots level, ensuring that when independence day comes on 23 June, the right decision will be taken by the majority of the British people.
[Mrs Madeleine Moon: I am always reluctant to disagree with the Chairman of the Defence Committee, and on this occasion I could not agree with him more profoundly. I do agree that our defence and security policies must embody the values that they are established to defend. There is no trade-off to be made between security and the values and principles on which a free and open political society is based. On that, we can agree. I think we can agree too that only a defence policy governed by rules established in laws will retain integrity and credibility in the fluid and fickle world of international relations in which we are now mired. ...]