The European Army threatens us all, argues Julian Lewis
Tribune – 2 February 2001
You do not have to be a fanatical eurosceptic to fear the forthcoming European Rapid Reaction Force (RRF). In fact, the main objections to it would apply just as strongly if the RRF were being set up by the separate states of Europe and the European Union did not exist.
The starting-point for my argument is the theory of deterrence itself – not nuclear deterrence, which so many Tribune readers detest, but simple, old-style conventional deterrence which had such a chequered history during the twentieth century.
It has often been claimed that the concept of "uncertainty" lies at the heart of deterrence. This is an error: the best deterrent against attack is for the potential attacker to be certain that his victim can and will respond effectively. Of course, uncertainty about the response is better than certainty that there will be no effective response; but in those circumstances a resolute aggressor may often still be willing to take a chance. This explains why the Japanese were more affected by the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 than they had been by the previous terrible firestorm in Tokyo which caused more casualties at first. The certainty that cities would be destroyed by a single bomb was a more effective threat than the possibility that more casualties could be caused by a 1,000-bomber raid which might, or might not, succeed.
Applying all this to the European theatre, let us ask ourselves what would have happened in August 1914 and in September 1939 if it had been known, with certainty, that the might of America's military machine would be engaged from the first day of hostilities? Who can doubt that the prospect of immediate US involvement would have decreased the likelihood of German aggression in the run-up to the two world wars?
It was the great achievement of the North Atlantic Alliance – in the foundation of which the Attlee government played such a vital role – to tie America permanently into the European security scene. From 1949 onwards, any potential aggressor knew that by picking a fight with one NATO country, he would immediately be at war with the United Kingdom and, more importantly, the United States.
This ruled out the type of chain-reaction caused by the separate bilateral pacts in unravelling the peace of Europe in 1914. It also ruled out the salami-slicing tactics which Nazi Germany used so successfully from the re-occupation of the Rhineland until the seizure of what was left of Czechoslovakia early in 1939. The element of gambling that the democracies would not react, so exploited by Hitler until he took one step too far, had now been removed.
Why is the RRF so dangerous?
The answer is that it will restore the devil's brew of uncertainty which encouraged risk-taking aggressors to chance their arm in the past. The government would have us believe that there is no prospect of this because the new force will not be used for what it calls "warfighting". It will, instead, be employed for "peace-making" and "crisis management" operations. This distinction is totally bogus.
The First World War, certainly, and the Second World War, arguably, began as a result of specific crises which spiralled out of control. Practically no one predicted that an assassination in the Balkans would cause a sequence of events leading to the death of millions from 1914 to 1918 – and beyond, if you count the consequences of the Russian Revolution. Yet, a Balkans crisis is precisely the sort of scenario which the RRF could be expected to tackle if the Americans, for any reason, declined to take part.
The government ritually denies that there will be a standing RRF, but Geoff Hoon has admitted, in answer to a Parliamentary Question from me, that the maximum scale of operation envisaged would involve deploying up to 60,000 ground troops. He confirmed in November that
"Britain's component could be around 12,500 strong. Maritime and air deployments of up to 18 warships and 72 combat aircraft could be made in addition."
Any crisis which involved the deployment of forces of this magnitude would clearly have the potential for escalation to all-out war. Suppose, for example, the Kosovo situation had arisen with an isolationist President in the White House. Suppose, too, that Serbia's traditional Russian allies were less enfeebled than in March 1999. It does not require much imagination to see how intervention by a European RRF, excluding the Americans, could lead to a direct conflict with Russia.
It is no use claiming that, if a crisis escalated in this way, the Americans would step in to rescue the Europeans. Perhaps they would; perhaps they would not. Yet, even if they did, it would be too late for purposes of deterrence. The war would already be under way – when it might well have been avoided if NATO-style certainty and solidarity had not been broken.
I could rest my case at this point, without party political embroidery. As stated at the outset, the danger of a Rapid Reaction Force in Europe would be just as great if the EU did not exist. Unfortunately, it is the existence of the EU which explains why Britain is not only conniving at, but is taking the lead in this potentially lethal mischief.
The RRF – or European Army, as Commission President Prodi is honest enough to describe it – has thus been selected as a substitute for the single currency. If Tony Blair cannot take a bow in one European theatre, he must push himself forward for a leading role in another. The tragedy is that, if he succeeds, it could be curtains for us all.