In his recent piece for Prospect, Anatol Lieven rightly raises the issue of current British defence policy, questioning current procurement programmes and the strategic concept of global intervention primarily with the US and/or Nato which underpins their development. Eurofighter, designed to interdict hostile jets, seems almost laughably superfluous, while the Royal Navy’s carriers–and especially Trident submarines–are of questionable strategic utility.
In order to escape from the current defence predicament, Professor Lieven logically proposes that Britain return to Europe to develop a more regionally focused defence policy. He articulates a vision of defence which inspired the St Malo agreement in 1998 and which many Europeans today would support.
Yet, the logical proposal of reinvigorated European defence co-operation runs in the face of current developments. The St Malo agreement and the European Security and Defence Policy which developed from it have been extremely disappointing. Europeans have been able to conduct few significant interventions even on their own borders. While neutral countries like Ireland and Sweden have been willing to contribute to these ventures, most of the other European nations have been reluctant to contribute. Germany has been very reticent here while France has typically used European missions to assert itself against the US and to further its own interests in Africa. There is very little appetite in Europe for the kind of European initiative which Lieven proposes.
On the contrary, the major impetus today is towards Nato and closer alliance with the US. Britain, the Netherlands, Denmark, Spain, Italy and all the new EU and Nato members in central and eastern Europe prioritise Nato. Decisively, with Sarkozy’s seminal announcement last year of Nato military re-integration, so now do France. The future of European military development and cooperation lies in Nato, not in the EU (despite the useful small operations the latter has done and will continue to do).
This may not be a cause for dismay. Precisely because Nato is united around the US with a common approach to military operations, it is possible that it will be able to engender a level of military unity which may in the long term empower Europe more effectively than the currently artificial and fragmented attempts to develop an autonomous European military capability.
Lieven’s point, notwithstanding, Afghanistan…