The proposed European army will do serious harm to the foundations of NATO
By Julian Lewis
The Parliamentary Monitor – September 2001
For more than half a century, peace in Europe was guaranteed by the North Atlantic Alliance. That guarantee has now come under threat as a result of the Labour government's decision to promote a European defence force outside the structure of NATO. Thwarted by public opinion, Tony Blair needed a substitute for his preferred policy of speedy British entry into the single European currency. The so-called EU Rapid Reaction Force supplies New Labour with surrogate credentials as radical Europeans.
Not as radical as Germany, however. Chancellor Schroeder recently aired the prospect of Russia one day joining NATO. Seizing upon this, the Russian commentator Yuri Pankov has gloatingly observed that:
"Despite bawled orders from across the ocean, West European countries are reducing their armies. Russia and Europe are waging an intensive security dialogue and European leaders say Moscow will surely be involved, one way or another, in the European defence component ... the time is ripe for the USA to start worrying about the possibility of being pushed away from the construction of a new architecture of European security."
This analysis is accurate. A mixture of motives is bringing into being a threat to the very existence of NATO as an effective security organisation. Some see the EU force as a deliberate counterweight to Washington. Others view it as a necessary element in the political unification of Europe. Romano Prodi has described the European Commission – of which he is President – as "the government of Europe". It is in this context that he notoriously declared:
"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 still a joint, not bilateral, effort at European level." (Independent, 4 February 2000)
Anxious for British acquiescence in his plans for Ballistic Missile Defence (of which, more later) President Bush has soft-pedalled, so far, on the European Army. Present and former US aides and advisers have been much less restrained. One described it as
"a dagger pointed at the heart of NATO".
Another – outgoing Defense Secretary William Cohen – warned that the Atlantic Alliance could become
"a relic of the past"
if European security became divorced from NATO. And, on January 11 this year his successor Donald Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the European Security and Defence Policy
"could pose a resource-diversion risk to NATO and, in doing so, undermine the ability of NATO to undertake effective collective defence".
This was a point previously put by Caspar Weinberger, Reagan's Defense Secretary and a good friend of Britain in the Falklands War. It was not enough, he said, to claim that the 60,000-strong EU force would act only when NATO did not wish to be involved. The men and equipment it would deploy were currently allocated to NATO. If siphoned off for an EU "peace-keeping" mission, it was a "mathematical certainty" that they would not be available for a crisis when NATO did wish to intervene.
Nor is it viable to maintain – as our own Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, has repeatedly tried to do – that the EU force will deal with "crisis-management" but not with "war-fighting". It would be a rather large crisis that required the use of up to 60,000 service personnel, and modern military history is littered with examples of wars which began as crises but then escalated out of control.
Above all, what the EU Army does is reopen the deadly prospect of future large-scale conflict in Europe without the automatic involvement of the United States right at the outset. This removes one of the two great deterrents to war which the NATO alliance posed – the other being the threat of nuclear retaliation. Of course, if a war again developed on the continent, America would probably eventually be drawn in. But for purposes of deterrence that would be too late. The war would already be under way, instead of being seen as too dangerous to begin on account of fear of US military power.
The EU Rapid Reaction Force is being "sold" by the Labour government as a strengthening of the defence capability of the European nations. Yet, as the Russian commentator I quoted earlier rightly noted, nothing of the kind is happening. New defence structures are being created, parallel to NATO, whilst the UK's armed forced are repeatedly being cut.
Our army is almost 8,000 men under strength, with up to 10 more infantry and armoured regiments facing the prospect of extinction. The Royal Navy lost destroyers, frigates and submarines under the Strategic Defence Review, and has been embarrassed by lack of fuel and ammunition for basic training exercises. The RAF's offensive frontline strength was similarly cut from 177 to 154 aircraft, and 13 air defence Tornado F3s were also removed from service. Territorial Army numbers were slashed by a devastating 18,000 (with rumours of worse to follow) and talk of defence procurement budget cuts of over a billion pounds has found its way into the press.
So what does New Labour have to offer in compensation for this ghastly mess? Two large aircraft carriers – a central component for expeditionary warfare, if they materialise years down the line – and possible support for a limited US scheme for Ballistic Missile Defence against rogue states possessing mass destruction weapons. Such a system might be 90 percent effective against conventionally-armed rockets, but it could defeat a nuclear attack only if the number of incoming missiles was relatively small.
Without access to Anglo-American secret intelligence, it is difficult to assess the reality of limited nuclear threats from tyrannical regimes. But, if a deal is struck to trade UK tolerance of BMD in return for US tolerance of an EU Army, it will be a very dangerous bargain for everyone involved.
[NOTE: This article was written and published before the events of 11 September 2001.]