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Fox: The Europeanisation of Defence

Speech to the Centre for Policy Studies

"The Laeken Declaration of 2001 claimed that EU citizens "want to see Europe more involved in foreign affairs, security and defence". Walking the streets of my constituency, I have never once heard that view expressed to me.

There seems to be an ever increasing disconnect between the federalist aspirations of the EU's self-styled political elite on the one hand, and the people of the European Union on the other.

The mindset of denial of the integrationists following the French and Dutch referendum results has been followed by a new, more subtle approach, evident in the continuous attempt to further integrate national defence policies.

The Belgian Prime Minister, Guy Verhofstadt, recently told the Today programme that 'the first thing to do if we want to have a common foreign policy is to have common instruments like European defence and European diplomacy'.

The High Representative for the Common Foreign & Security Policy, Javier Solana ruminated back in February:

"Every day, I also feel the frustration of knowing how much more we could do. If only we had a bit more political will and greater means at our disposal".

This followed his pronouncement last year, that

"European defence policy is not only in constant progression: it has now reached the threshold of irreversibility"

Note that word "irreversibility". Is any of this really irreversible?

Denmark is not participating in the European Defence Agency, or indeed any other aspect of a common defence policy.

NATO remains in existence, and continues to play a vital role. National governments retain a veto. So lets be clear at the outset - there is nothing inevitable about this process at all.

When considering our approach to European defence co-operation, there are three distinct problems we must consider.

These are the questions of defence expenditure, foreign policy, and democratic accountability.

I often refer to the fact that the UK spends just 2.2% of its GDP on defence, the lowest figure since 1930. Yet, while this is low by Britain's historic standards, it is much more than many of our European partners spend. Austria, for example, spent just 0.7% of its GDP on defence in 2005. For Spain the figure is only 1.3%, and the Netherlands 1.7%. Even Germany spends only 1.4% of GDP on defence.

Those nations that do spend more on defence end up subsidising the defence of the low-spending nations. Furthermore France and Britain are the only European allies with flexible, mobile forces that can sustain themselves long distances from their territories.

But the idea that any of the current EU states would ever be willing to contemplate spending on a scale that would match the level of protection afforded by the American defence umbrella is frankly laughable.

The second problem relates to foreign policy. Defence policy inevitably follows foreign policy. It is projecting the force needed to support your foreign policy objectives. Any common defence policy must act in synchrony with a co-ordinated foreign policy. History teaches us that national self-interest will usually trump any supra-national aspirations. Events in the Balkans since 1990 have shown how difficult it is to merge individual countries' foreign policy objectives.

The crisis in the Balkans cruelly exposed the gap between EU rhetoric and the ability to act effectively. Unable to keep a peace that did not exist, unwilling to involve themselves in conflict, Europe's Hour had indeed come, but they failed to live up to the challenge. It was the US - whose presence in NATO France so resents - that was the prime mover in saving the Balkans from Euro-paralysis.

It was rightly pointed out that events in the former Yugoslavia exposed deep foreign policy differences among member states and that the problem lay not simply in a lack of mechanisms or structures but rather in profound divergence of interests among member states.

Indeed, the Yugoslav crisis was a salutary lesson in the limits of European integration, and specifically in the difficulty of sharing sovereignty in the sensitive areas of security and defence.

So, neither the financial framework nor the coincidence of foreign policy interests exist that would sustain a common European defence posture.

Yet it is the third problem, that of democratic accountability, that is truly insurmountable.

The decision of any government to commit its troops to combat is perhaps the most difficult, important and serious decision that can be taken. For these reasons that decision must always be made in the full knowledge that the government will, ultimately, be held accountable to the electorate.

So Britain can never allow its troops to be sent into action by any supra-national body, still less one with no democratic accountability. There is not, and cannot be, a role for the European Union in this sphere.

Yet despite these problems which I have identified, we now stand at the threshold of an EU defence identity. How on earth did we get here? Where do the integrationists want us to end up and, more importantly, what will we do?

The real spur to a European Security & Defence Policy (ESDP) was the conflict in Bosnia. It was that failure to act which contributed to the landmark declaration at St Malo by Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac which advocated a "capacity for autonomous action" - autonomous, that is, of NATO. This 'desire' was heightened further by the conflict in Kosovo - another conflict on European soil. Then the events of 9/11 then encouraged the EU to expand its competencies yet further into counter-terrorism measures.

EU leaders see ESDP as providing a military backbone for the Union's evolving Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), a project aimed at furthering EU political integration and boosting the EU's weight in world affairs.

Duplication, Decoupling, Discrimination

It was the former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright who, in 1998, laid out the conditions for US support of EU defence policies. There should be no duplication of NATO's resources, no decoupling of the US from NATO and no discrimination against NATO's non-European members.

Sadly all three have come to pass in the years since.

From Pörtschach to Saint Malo, from Cologne to Helsinki and on to Nice, EU member governments have slowly been constructing institutions to build an EU defence identity by duplicating NATO institutions - planning cells, an EU military staff and a European Defence Agency concerned with procurement. A European Security and Defence Initiative became a European Security & Defence Policy - an arcane change in the nomenclature, you might think, but in the detail lay the mark of the federalists turning away from NATO.

None of these - none of these - have either expanded military capabilities, led to increased military spending or given the EU more 'teeth' when it comes to executing policy decisions.

EU Duplication

The European integrationists recognised that before ESDP could be set in stone, a need for it had to be manufactured by creating institutions which then had to find things to do to justify their existence. Only by engaging in ESDP missions could a raison d'etre be established, or as Solana has recently put it to create "legitimacy by action". In other words, there is no real need for the EU to take on such missions.

When you consider some of the operations which have provided ESDP with the opportunity to create legitimacy, one is struck by the number of international organisations who could just as easily have performed them. EU monitoring missions in Aceh province in Indonesia, for example, had a sizeable ASEAN contribution.

The EU conducts policing missions in Macedonia and Bosnia, a border mission to Ukraine & Moldova, and a mission tackling the economic and security black hole that is Transdinistria. Yet all three are specialist competencies of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe of which EU nations are members.

The EU's mission to DR Congo had a preponderance of French troops, but with an EU hat on. In what way did this differ from France's intervention to stabilise Cote d'Ivoire under UN authorisation? Given France's continued heavy influence and national interests in Francophone Africa, why did they need the EU to get involved? Indeed, given that the EU had to co-operate with the UN's MONUC operation in DR Congo anyway, what did the EU provide that could not have been done by the same troops wearing a UN hat?

In all of these, there was nothing that could not have been done by someone else - even if it were the same soldiers wearing different hats. Overall global capacity for acting in these theatres has not been increased. Legitimacy truly has been preceded by specific missions rather than vice-versa.

EU-NATO Co-operation

But Madeleine Albright's original vision of EU-NATO co-operation is viable, and has been realised in the Balkans. Operation Concordia saw an EU force take over from a small NATO peacekeeping force in Macedonia, but Concordia continued to be supported by the NATO HQ in Mons. Equally, Operation Althea in December 2004 saw the EU relieve the NATO peacekeeping force in Bosnia.

This success has been built on the so-called Berlin Plus framework whereby the EU has access to NATO planning and assets for operations in which NATO is not engaged. However NATO remains the predominant organisation, and reserves the right of first refusal, while European forces are separable but not separate from NATO.

This arrangement works, and must remain the pattern for any EU operation. What will not work is if NATO and the EU "compete" for the use of mobile, high-readiness forces. Some of these units are already "double hatted" for use either by the EU or by NATO. Given the EU's desire to act autonomously, what if NATO and the EU both wanted to act in different ways in a given theatre? The assets are the same whether EU or NATO since no soldier, ship or plane can be in two places at once.


The second of Madeleine Albright's 'D's was the 'decoupling' of the EU from NATO. By setting up duplicate command structures, the EU is slowly decoupling its security identity from the US. There have been arguments over NATO support for the African Union mission in Darfur, and with some EU nations wanting to prioritise the separate EU mission to the Congo. France has also been reluctant to allow even informal discussions of terrorism at NATO meetings.

So far, the only increase in overall EU capability has been the establishment of institutions - as a prelude to more. Common defence policy is the only relic of the rejected constitution which is still being progressed determinedly by Brussels. There are other proposals for a common nuclear deterrent, or the insertion of an article of mutual defence into EU treaties akin to NATO's article 5.

Some in Europe envisage the creation of a multi-polar world in which the EU acts as some sort of counterbalance to the military might of the US. This overlooks the fact that the US has been the main and successful guarantor of our security in the post-war world. In Britain, we also benefit not only from co-operation over the nuclear deterrent but also from the sharing of intelligence.

No other organisation but a US-led NATO could form the hub of a coalition to maintain global security. No wider international grouping, not even the UN Security Council itself, could do so either - just remember the splits and paralysis in the UN over Iraq. It is the military might of the United States that gives the political consensus the will it needs to deter and deal with aggressors.

But co-operation and alliance with America alone cannot be the sum of British defence policy. It is always unwise to put all your eggs in a single basket - a balanced defence portfolio in procurement decisions is essential, for example.

I think that cooperation in research and development between sovereign European states has much to commend it, creating an alternative defence procurement base to America and widening procurement options.

Bilateral Anglo-French procurement projects for aircraft carriers, or Anglo-German-Italian-Spanish aviation projects such as Eurofighter, or Anglo-Dutch amphibious troops, may be in our national interest. But I see no need to involve the EU given that such bilateral projects work well - and better than many EU projects and missions.

And as Operation Althea has proved, joint deployments with our European allies under the NATO umbrella are acceptable.

We must not allow the terms European and EU to be synonymous. There is much that can be achieved by European cooperation. Indeed, those of us labelled Eurosceptics should really be labelled EU- sceptics.

So much of where the EU treads duplicates what NATO already does or could do. NATO, for example, could deal with the issue of energy security much more effectively than the EU could if only because it has Turkey as a member and most of the nations of the Caspian Basin are active in NATO's Partnership for Peace. NATO, because of American involvement, remains the most effective means of combating terrorism and weapons of mass destruction as Afghanistan will hopefully prove.


This is why I remain hugely cautious about the European Defency Agency. There is nothing wrong in trying to expand military capability, fill in gaps where they occur, or reduce economic nationalism in the defence sector. But Conservative approval for these goals should not be mistaken for a blank cheque for future extensions of competences. In fact, the opposite is the case.

Currently, the EDA is under the control of the Council of Ministers and as such subject to national vetoes. If the current Government seeks to alter that legal basis, to substitute QMV for the national veto, or submits to a Common Procurement process, then it would be our policy to no longer co-operate with the EDA. Whilst we retain a veto, we retain our freedom to say "No". That is fundamental to our national security and the operation of a sovereign defence policy.

In any case, it is unclear why we should restrict the beneficial goals of pooling development costs, avoiding expensive duplication or encouraging extra defence spending solely to EU members.

If we are serious about the potential benefits of the EDA then it makes no sense to restrict its activities solely to EU members. If it is genuinely concerned with defence R and D across the continent of Europe, rather than being an exercise in EU aggrandisement then its membership should be widened.

Madeleine Albright's third 'D' was a fear that non-EU NATO members such as Norway or Turkey would be discriminated against in the development of any new European security identity.

Discrimination has indeed been visited on NATO member Turkey's application to join the EU.

More widely, NATO members such as Norway find themselves discriminated against when it comes to Europe's defence procurement market.

We would strongly like to see other non-EU NATO members allowed to participate in the EDA. What could be a better test of the real intent of the supporters of EDA? That is the challenge we present.

NATO at risk

The Berlin plus concept provides the framework for a suitable EU role. We cannot accept anything that seeks to supplant NATO rather than augment it.

Current EU ambitions risk a NATO-EU rivalry that could, as in the case of June 2005 support to the African Union, delay operations or risk running an operation in parallel.

And they risk the possible development within NATO of an "EU caucus" — in other words, common pre-negotiated EU positions — which could complicate NATO decision-making.

EU plans for its rapid reaction force may depend on double- or triple-hatting forces already assigned to NATO or other multinational units. This could potentially deprive NATO of forces it might need if a larger crisis arose subsequent to an EU deployment.

Finally the EU's self-proclaimed "success" in establishing defence decision-making bodies has not been matched by capability improvements. There is no EU defence capability - it is a political illusion.


In fulfilling Britain's strategic goals we must work with others, particularly our NATO allies. NATO embodies the absolutely vital partnership between Europe and North America. Neither Europe nor America can afford to see these bonds duplicated, decoupled or discriminated against.

Beyond Europe's borders, NATO's assumption of new responsibilities for the stabilisation and rebuilding of Afghanistan, and its training of security forces in Iraq, are tentative but vital steps for the alliance.

We must not allow issues of lack of capability, or national politics to impede NATO's effectiveness.

Today the European nations working through NATO have an unprecedented chance to prove their military credibility. Europe wants to do more, and should be able to do much more, but only under NATO auspices.

The danger of weakening NATO either by political designs or divided loyalties, at a time when it needs to provide readily available, well trained and interoperable forces, is clear.

It is for all these reasons that we will reject any further attempt to duplicate already existing assets and capabilities and to decouple Europe from American security.

So proposals for a common EU nuclear deterrent, an EU Minister for Foreign Affairs or a common procurement policy are fundamentally wrong-headed and cannot be acceptable to any British government genuinely interested in measures to improve our common security.

We want to see cooperation between independent states when it is in their mutual interests to do so but with the ability to act separately when their national interest requires it and free from the dead hand of EU bureaucracy.

The defence of the realm is at the heart of our national sovereignty, and NATO remains the cornerstone of our defence. The Europeanisation of defence by the EU is a dangerous prospect, advancing gradually, and we must be ever watchful. We have been warned."

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