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Van Orden: What must be done to strengthen transatlantic relations?

Speech to The New Defence Agenda Conference on "The Re-launching of Transatlantic Relations " - Carlton Club, London, 23 May 2003.

"The most important step that could be taken to strengthen transatlantic relations would be for the EU to shelve development of its autonomous defence policy.

There are, of course, many aspects to transatlantic relations besides defence, not least economic. While recognising the possible strategic linkage between political, economic, and security interests I regard it as inappropriate, if not thoroughly dangerous, for the EU as such to construct itself as Europe's interlocutor with the United States on defence matters. If the EU were to become Europe's half of the alliance equation it would not be long before the Alliance fell apart.

However, we have to recognise that the most fundamental change that has occurred in transatlantic security relations is the emergence of the EU as a player in that relationship. But I see no other justification for EU involvement in defence than to take forward the political process of European integration, in effect to empower the EU as a state. And for many, this process is driven by anti-Americanism. I listen every week to the Presidency of the European Council applauding the latest steps in European defence policy as contributions to European integration. Military capability is the last thing on its mind.

Of course, at the moment, national governments have an armlock on military activity in that they provide the armed forces for EU missions. But if there were to be an EU "Sandhurst", if there were to be an EU defence budget, and if 'enhanced co-operation' was applied to defence, then we would soon have the much-denied 'EU Army'. And all these elements are included in the work of Giscard's Convention.

You might argue that all this would be a good thing as we have been trying for years to get the Europeans to shoulder more of the defence burden. But, I am afraid this really doesn't come into it. With one or two exceptions, defence budgets in Europe have been slashed and the EU as an institution adds absolutely nothing to military capabilities.

Last Monday, for the second time in 17 months, the EU declared its military capabilities "operational". During that 17 months, there have been 19 "panels", now giving birth to 10 "Project Groups" but not one new piece of equipment - not one extra soldier, helicopter, tank or combat aircraft has been added to the inventory of the armed forces of any European country as a consequence of EU Defence Policy. It merely wastes already meagre continental European defence budgets on EU structures that mirror proven NATO institutions. Even more importantly, it weakens western political solidarity.

Having created an artificial divide from NATO, the EU has had to spend some two years negotiating unnecessary arrangements with NATO to enable the EU to draw on NATO resources.

And the existence of a separate European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) - the fact that there was another show in town - undoubtedly contributed to the enormously damaging splits within the Alliance in the lead up to the Iraq war. The indications are that ESDP will remain a running sore - perhaps until the Americans throw in the towel, rundown their commitment to NATO's institutions and remove their forces from Europe.

Of course there might well be times when Europeans would wish to act alone or bear the heaviest responsibility for a particular military action, especially in their own backyard. But this sort of decision should be taken around the table with the Americans and with their full support. Not only is there no need for meetings to take place in separate buildings or for separate military staff structures to fiddle around with such matters, but such separate activities will only undermine confidence between the US and its European allies.

I therefore fail to understand the logic of the British Labour Government's argument that EU military developments are some sort of reinforcement of NATO capabilities when clearly they are the opposite - at best an enormous distraction, sapping NATO political unity and creating divisions among erstwhile allies - at worst, a Trojan horse that will destroy NATO from within.

It is no use the British authorities imagining that the insertion of words such as "where NATO as a whole is not engaged" in EU communiqués will act as some sort of talisman that protects the integrity of NATO.

It is time that some home truths were spoken instead of the shadow boxing of recent times. For nearly 40 years the NATO Alliance has been hostage to French petulance. Constantly we have had to make allowance for gallic exceptionalism. Everyone else was perfectly content with Alliance arrangements. Isn't it extraordinary that fifteen or more other Alliance members have had to adjust their positions in order to keep France happy.

If ESDP continues on its present course, what will be the outcome? Will there be pre-cooked positions by the EU, deliberately different to those of the United States? How long will it be before there is a request for the EU's 'Foreign Minister' to sit at NAC Ministerials? In which case, will there be any need for other EU states to be represented? Or will NATO merely become increasingly irrelevant? I suggest Whitehall stares into this particular abyss.

The US also has a certain responsibility for the turn of events. In the early days the US was the strongest proponent of European integration. Then, in relation to defence, it became the disinterested observer, saying that 'it was up to the Europeans to decide their defence arrangements', as if this was no business of the US.

Since 1998, Washington, for whatever reason, has accepted the rhetoric from Number 10 that everything was under control, that ESDP was something positive for NATO. It took the Iraq crisis to expose what was really going on.

In addition, particularly perhaps since 9/11, there has been insufficient political investment by the US in NATO. And there is a suspicion that some parts of the Washington establishment now reject any form of multilateralism, as if America no longer needs European allies. Fortunately this is a minority sport which I do not believe has a large following within the Administration. Nevertheless any indication of such ideas is quickly seized by those that want to portray the US as unilateralist, or isolationist, or as a malign hegemon.

There is a choice to be made. We can either follow the French/Belgian line and destroy the strategic structure that has served us so well for over 50 years. Or action must be taken by like-minded states that attach primary importance to the transatlantic alliance as the cornerstone of their security policy.

Last November in Prague, besides inviting seven east European states to join, Nato set about transforming itself to meet the "grave new threats" of the 21st century. It agreed to streamline its military command arrangements; develop new military capabilities; create a quick-action, technologically advanced, Nato Response Force; endorse a military concept for defence against terrorism; strengthen civil protection measures and defences against cyber attack, and to examine new options for missile defence - serious stuff in these dangerous times. This is where we must focus our undivided attention.

By 1955, in the face of the Soviet threat and having found an acceptable formula for enlisting German military potential to the allied cause, the Europeans had effectively shelved their defence arrangements under the Brussels Treaty in favour of NATO. Now, yet again, in the face of today's new threats which are equally demanding of Western solidarity, the European nations should cease development of a divergent autonomous military capability as part of the EU project of political integration and reinvigorate their defence structures under the NATO umbrella.

Instead of building divisions into the transatlantic alliance we must revitalise NATO as the primary instrument of Western security. We need to rebuild a common Western "strategic culture". Mr Blair must put the brakes on ESDP before it is too late."

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