NATO has protected us for years. The EU's naive attempt to duplicate it will fail without the Americans.
By Julian Lewis
Daily Telegraph – 9 May 2016
I served for five years on Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, so I hold those who lead our secret agencies in high regard. However, a Sunday newspaper article penned by two former heads of MI5 and MI6 warning that leaving the EU may damage our security has a wearily familiar ring.
In February, a similar intervention by retired senior military officers backfired when it emerged that some had declined to sign a letter drafted in Downing Street – though at least one had his name added anyway. Field Marshal Lord Bramall also revealed that after letting his name go forward reluctantly he felt pressured into signing something which was “not the kind of letter” he would have written.
Those unfortunate events may explain why Sir John Sawers, the former chief of MI6 felt it necessary to offer assurances that he and Lord Evans of Weardale, the former head of MI5,
“had not co-ordinated their intervention with Downing Street”.
Naturally, I believe him. Yet, only a month ago Lord Evans told me – personally – that the UK’s intelligence links with friendly foreign agencies will not be damaged whether or not we leave the EU, even if he believed that we should remain for other reasons.
In March, another former MI6 chief, Sir Richard Dearlove, wrote that
“the truth about Brexit from a national security perspective is that the cost to Britain would be low”.
Perhaps it was this that provoked the Sawers response. But the reality is that any limited costs and benefits of Brexit in domestic security terms must be seen as secondary to the profound threat to peace in Europe posed by the EU’s fixation on a common foreign and defence policy for all its members, including the United Kingdom.
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. After all, why is NATO the most successful military alliance in history? The answer is clear: it is the deterrent effect of US membership. This means that, unlike in 1914 and 1939, a would-be aggressor must face the prospect of war with the world’s most powerful state right from the outset since Article 5 of the NATO Charter requires that any attack on a NATO member must be seen as an attack on them all.
By securing a permanent US commitment to the defence of all its members from 1949 onwards, NATO changed the calculus confronting potential aggressors. No longer could they pick off weak European states, one after another, in the hope of making easy gains. No longer could they gamble that stronger countries would look the other way, instead of fighting back to defend the victims.
In order to deter, collective security must combine adequate power with a high probability of its use in response to attack. On both grounds, NATO succeeds and the EU 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.
The NATO guarantee is a solemn commitment to fight a third world war for the sake of any member country attacked or invaded. NATO membership must not be proffered lightly nor extended to countries in respect of which Article 5 does not seem credible. Ukraine is a case in point. Here is a deeply divided country whose best chance of staying together and remaining independent is to follow a policy of non-alignment externally and devolution internally. Yet, by clumsily seeking to integrate the whole of Ukraine into the Western orbit, using its federalising techniques (in this case, an EU “association agreement”), Brussels gave President Putin added incentive to intervene militarily.
As is often pointed out, it is
“not acceptable in the 21st century”
for a strong power like Russia to behave in this unilateral and aggressive way. Yet, in the 20th century, it was equally unacceptable for Germany to behave as it did in the run-up to two world wars. How democrats should behave in such perilous geopolitical circumstances needs to be a matter of efficacy, not just ethics. By egging on Ukraine and provoking Putin, while lacking the power to underwrite policy with force, the EU did no one any favours.
With its pretensions to a common foreign and defence policy, the EU seeks to duplicate NATO by recreating it without the deterrent power of the Americans. By trying to act as a separate entity on the European stage, the EU resurrects all the old risks of blundering into military confrontations under circumstances where the US may feel free from any obligation to act.
As part of the EU, the UK can do nothing to prevent this. Furthermore, by importing uncertainty into the situation, the EU raises the spectre, once again, of war by miscalculation. Thus, if the EU clashed with Russia over the interests of a non-NATO state not covered by Article 5, the US might respond militarily, but the Kremlin might wrongly discount that prospect – a lethal mistake discovered only when it would be too late for all concerned.
In deterring external threats, the EU adds nothing but risk and uncertainty to the exemplary role discharged by NATO; but what about its pompous claim to have made war between its own members “inconceivable”? EU leaders urge Brexit supporters to visit the vast military cemeteries in France and Belgium – as if the dead supported their notion of a single European superstate.
They dishonour the memory of those who fought for the rights of the British people, and of the captive peoples of occupied Europe, to govern themselves within free, constitutional and democratic countries. There is no risk of Western European states going to war with each other, as long as they remain free, democratic and constitutional. Constitutional democracies do not attack one another. Wars break out between dictatorships and other dictatorships, or between dictatorships and democracies, as in 1939.
By trying to build a supranational state in the absence of democratic structures or a popular mandate, the EU is sowing the seeds of precisely the sort of conflicts it claims to have abolished.
Julian Lewis is Conservative MP for New Forest East and Chairman of the House of Commons Defence Committee, though writing here in a personal capacity. A longer version of this article is to be published by the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies.