Britain's intelligence ties with the US-which includes spying on other EU states-may undermine Europe's new defence policyby Charles Grant / June 20, 2000 / Leave a comment
Published in June 2000 issue of Prospect Magazine
One of the most constant features of the post-war geopolitical landscape has been the “special relationship” between London and Washington on intelligence matters. For all its undoubted benefits, this intelligence relationship is now grating against the drive-led by Britain and France-to create an effective European defence force. Something may have to give.
Most British officials see no contradiction between the special relationship and Europe’s new foreign and defence policy. Taking their lead from Tony Blair, they insist that Britain can be pro-American and pro-European integration at the same time. They assume that Britain can continue to enjoy privileged access to US intelligence, while playing a lead role in the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP).
But some Americans and continental Europeans are not so sure. They believe that the apparently arcane practice of intelligence gathering could be the issue which forces Britain to decide whether its destiny is European or transatlantic. The subject of spying, like the use of armed force, excites strong national feelings. It makes people think about who their real friends are. One French official argues that the British will not be able to play a leading role in the EU unless they jettison their special intelligence links to the US: “Britain must choose Europe or betray it.”
That is an exaggeration. But British officials may be too insouciant. If the CFSP proves a success, the special relationship will start to create difficulties. Because the formation of foreign policy depends, at least in part, on intelligence assessments, the fact that EU countries receive different assessments must make it harder for them to forge common policies. Britain’s intimate connections to the US may also make it harder for EU states to share intelligence among themselves-because Britain may be less interested in intra-European sharing, and because its EU partners may trust Britain less. Equally, if the US believes that Britain has developed special links with its EU partners, and that it is part of a European enterprise which to some degree challenges the US, it may become wary of sharing with the British.