New Forest East



The Times – 20 February 2001

I was present at a meeting on November 15 last year when the Chief of the Defence Staff, Sir Charles Guthrie, made two key admissions to MPs about the European Union rapid reaction force.

First, he was asked by a Conservative Defence spokesman why the force was created outside rather than inside the structure of NATO. Sir Charles replied: "I suppose it could have been done within the NATO framework and in some ways it would have been easier." However, he went on, politicians had decided otherwise: "It was decided by the EU Governments that this was the way it would be done."

Secondly, I suggested that low-level conflicts, which would have been deterred by automatic US involvement, could escalate into intensive war-fighting if handled by the EU alone. Sir Charles conceded that: "If it had trickled forward, there could be a risk of that", though he would expect the Americans to be involved "quite quickly" if such a crisis were escalating.

The accuracy of these quotations was not disputed when I made them public a fortnight later, following on-the-record statements by Sir Charles that he believed that the proposed force would strengthen and not weaken NATO and European security.

His latest public pronouncements on the matter in Rome are reported to have "brushed aside" (details, February 9) the risks of an EU force, on the one hand, and to have "fired parting shots" against such a force on the other – according to which newspaper one reads.

Now that he has stepped down as CDS, Sir Charles is perfectly at liberty to enter the public policy debate on this extremely controversial matter. It is greatly to be regretted that, by doing so whilst still in post, he allowed himself repeatedly to be prayed in aid by politicians on one side or the other of this intense debate.

Worst of all, he has set a precedent for public intervention by serving senior military officers which others may feel bound to follow if they wish to aspire to the highest posts in the course of their military careers.

(Secretary, Conservative Parliamentary Defence Committee)
House of Commons
London SW1