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Introduction to a British perspective on developments in European Defence, by Sir Nick Harvey.
This is a febrile moment in British politics, with our election just five months away, with our electorate more volatile than ever before, and with the outcome more difficult to read than any election for many decades.
But what I can say with absolute certainty is that whatever colour or stripe of government emerges next May, it will have to continue to grappling painfully with our unsustainably large deficit in public finances. And as part of that challenge, it will have to conduct a Strategic Defence and Security Review next summer – as all our political parties have committed to follow the practice agreed in 2010.
The idea of committing incoming governments to post-election Reviews is to encourage parties to use the pre-election period to educate the British public about our underlying national interests, and about the values that British foreign policy should seek to protect and promote.
So far that hope has failed. The popular debate on Britain's place in the world, our friends, partners and enemies, has hardly moved forward in the 25 years since the end of the cold war, although the global economy, and the threats to regional and global order, have been transformed.
Promotion of our national values has become subordinated to the absurd defence of UK sovereignty against embarrassing rulings from international courts. Populist nationalism and the right-wing media still promote a nostalgic myth of Anglo-Saxon identity, threatened by a hostile continent.
Foolish promises of an early referendum on UK membership of the EU have pushed out wider and longer-term issues. The promise of a referendum is no substitute for a foreign policy.
Threats and opportunities
The most striking aspect of our 2010 Defence Review was the emphasis it placed on non-military threats: global epidemics, cyber warfare, terrorism, natural disasters, organised crime, the spill over from failing states, and civil conflict in terms of surges of refugees and the rise of radical movements.
Five years later, these threats are far more evident. There are NO direct military threats to the UK. But indirect threats, shared with our neighbours and other open societies, continue to proliferate. Most of us would add – as the European Security Strategy does – climate change and energy security to the list of long-term threats facing Britain, its allies and neighbours.
So, protecting our security now demands resources far wider than those traditionally assigned to defence: police and intelligence capabilities, energy conservation, biomedical research, capacity to assist in international emergencies, conflict prevention, state-building, and supporting social and economic development in other states.
Above all, it requires cooperation with other states: those who share our values and our commitment to an open and peaceful international order. We do not face international challenges alone; so it makes no sense for anyone to talk as if we can meet them on our own.
Security and prosperity go together. The global shift of economic and financial power means that the UK is now building economic links with the Gulf States, with India and with China.
But it's important to place this shift in context. We have doubled our exports to China over the past 5 years; they now amount to almost 3% of the total, our 10th largest market. India has risen to be our 15th largest market, with 2% of the total, just ahead of Canada and Australia. Our most important foreign market, the world's largest single market, remains the European Union, taking around half of our exports in 2013.
Partnership or parochialism: what is Britain's place in the world?
The choices the next British government will face about defence policy are as much about the UK's sense of its place in the world – and our appetite for fulfilling our international responsibilities – as they are about the threats we face.
UK armed forces have suffered severe cuts over the last decade. But it is not clear that the expectations of our public, media – or indeed politicians – have kept pace. The public will expect and sometimes demand that the armed forces intervene overseas if British citizens overseas (of whom there are 5.5 million) are at risk.
A scenario could all too realistically occur where a government feels it must send UK forces into action, even when available forces are not adequate to the task.
In short, UK ambition significantly outstrips the resources being made available; or put another way, the UK's sense of its place in the world may need to be scaled back to reflect more realistically the resources at our disposal.
Working with allies
So we have to work with partners who share our interests and values. That requires a broader rethinking of the UK's international place in the world, as the starting point for shaping and scaling our future defence.
Of course NATO remains a key military partnership for as far into the future as I can see, but equally we must take heed of America's "rebalancing" of effort towards its Pacific seaboard and away from the Atlantic. The countries of Europe simply cannot depend on the US to guarantee our collective security in the next 50 years to the same extent as we have for the last 50 years. Europe must do more, and the data prepared for this conference by our French colleagues shows only too clearly that the European effort by comparison to the Americans' is pathetic.
Progress will come about predominantly through bilateral and multilateral working and not through the EU, which necessarily proceeds at the speed of the slowest, and can only resolve a common defence policy when pursuing a common foreign policy – and that requires unanimity. When unanimity is achieved, the EU has proved its mettle – as in Bosnia, North Africa, Somalia and the counter-piracy work off the Somali coast. We should be proud of what has been achieved under the EU flag.
My impression is that industry is well ahead of governments in rising to the challenge of European defence co-operation, though I applaud our developing partnership with the French forces. I am sure I am not alone in lamenting the failure of the Airbus-BAE merger, which I strongly believe could have been a great success and have built a huge and credible European player in the global market.
European tax payers need to see far greater value for money; and closer co-operation in defence research & development, in procurement, and in common specifications can achieve that without unacceptable loss of national sovereignty or independence.
Another of the papers to this conference observes that across Europe and its shrinking defence budgets we have 25 types of frigate while the US Navy has only 3; 13 different types of guns for naval artillery; 9 types of submarines, built in 8 different dockyards. We must be ambitious but we must also be realistic.
As that paper said, as a global common our oceans are – and will continue to be – the bedrock of the politico-economic system. So maritime co-operation is a no-brainer. But in the air too, we saw in Libya how dependent we were on the US for surveillance and for air-to-air refuelling. So co-operation in the air is also crucial. I echo the calls for a European fleet of tankers but also a possible European Command for Maritime Patrol Aircraft. We heard earlier about joint work in ground-based air defences and in missile defence. We patrol Europe's civilian airspace together, so why not its military airspace?
Where unanimity can be achieved we must work through the EU's CSDP. But in many other cases bilateral partnerships – and small clusters of member states – will be most effective: Franco-British, Benelux and Nordic partnerships are cases in point. Such deals can be structured across industrial development, building capabilities and preparing for operations.
Sovereignty and autonomy need not always be a barrier. And the further back from the front line you are, the less of an issue it is. In industry, in training, in sharing facilities, the aim should be to maximise compatibility. Our emerging Franco-British partnership aims to maximise our scale of operational capability, and through that to maximise our influence on the international stage. This is the objective of our Combined Joint Expeditionary Force and our plan to co-ordinate carrier groups.
But above all else the goal should be to align strategic culture more closely. Britain and France are aligning our capabilities for high intensity expeditionary operations. The Dutch and Belgian navies are closely aligned to work together. And yet in the conference this morning the German Foreign Ministry (unlike the Ministry of Defence) depicted military effort simply as the 'last resort'. Others have more appetite.
In my spare time I am an avid football enthusiast. And in football it is not the best way to defend your goal to put all your eleven players on your own goal line. To keep danger away from your goal, some of your players must show more spirit of adventure and head up-field to take the battle into your opponents' half and keep the ball at that end of the pitch.
And, for as far into the future as I can see, it will no more be acceptable to try and stop those European states who have the appetite for adventure from undertaking it, than it will be to try and force those who don't wish it, to participate.
Sheer complexity can be a barrier to alignment; bringing two forces together can be difficult – let alone 28! Having compatible equipment can be a game-changer, and compatible training too.
But in lower-tech areas, small isn't always beautiful: European Air Transport Command is a success and the UK should join up. France can withdraw assets if needed, and so could we.
Maintaining a Liberal international order
We have lived through several decades in which the structures of international order grew stronger, under Western leadership: promoting an open world economy, widening networks of international law and regulation, negotiating and working to implement higher standards of human rights.
But we are now facing active challenges to the liberal order which we have enjoyed through most of our lifetimes. The United States is losing the capacity to provide global leadership, suffering from deeply fractured politics. Putin's Russia rejects Western-formulated rules for state behaviour. China pursues mercantile policies, and seeks to re-establish its historical regional dominance. Disorder across the Middle East and Africa is more likely to grow than to diminish.
We now face an illiberal world, in which the majority of state regimes do not share our values, and we will have to work closely with the partners we can find to maintain and reinforce the institutions which support global order.
I was struck to learn that an analysis of UN voting showed that between 1992 and 2008 the UK and France had voted together in the UN General Assembly on 95% of resolutions, whereas the US had voted together with the UK only 65% of the time – slightly more than China, but less than Russia. The US and the UK, as this suggests, have different priorities and interests, even though we share underlying values. We share the widest range of interests and values with our neighbours in Europe.
Status, sovereignty and security
In 1961, the year I was born, British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan published a pamphlet on Britain's decision to join the European Economic Community. Calling it 'perhaps the most fateful and forward-looking policy decision in our peacetime history', he reminded his sceptics that 'we in Britain are Europeans' and that 'practically every nation, including our own, has already been forced by the pressures of the modern world to abandon large areas of sovereignty and to realise that we are now all inter-dependent.'
If only his successors had been equally courageous in spelling out the realities of Britain's position to their parties and their public.
Which – in conclusion – brings me back, inevitably, to the question of money. If British ministers in the 2010 Defence Review thought we were making painfully ghastly decisions – and we did – these may be but nothing compared to those which will have to be made over the next ten years or so.
Between roughly 2017-30, I can see a grim battle between a wide range of vast defence projects competing for very limited funds: the new aircraft carriers need Joint Strike Fighter planes; our new class of frigate is to be built; the British Army's equipment crisis must be resolved; a new generation of remotely piloted aircraft, new amphibious shipping, more helicopters, and new generation of enhanced satellite, ISTAR and cyber security assets are all needed.
All of this will be made even more difficult if our prevailing orthodoxy on the nuclear question remains unchallenged, and a huge procurement goes ahead to replace our deterrent on the same scale we calibrated at the height of the cold war, and we continue to patrol the high seas 24/7 at full alert despite our own security assessment concluding that we currently have no nuclear adversary.
Motivations for full-scale renewal of the UK nuclear deterrent force have mixed sober assessment of the Soviet nuclear threat – long since gone – with sentiments about Britain's status as a great power, concerns about standing in Washington, and rivalry with the French.
If we continue to aspire to a global role; if we want to protect our global interests in commerce, culture, science, education, development aid and many other areas; if we take seriously our responsibilities as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, then we must do two vital things:
Firstly, guarantee not to let our defence budget fall below the 2% NATO "entry level" for basic club membership – which we are set to do within the next two years;
And secondly, we must work much more closely with our European neighbours, and be candid with our public that this is both a necessary and desirable thing to do – and that we have no alternative.
I am sure that all of you will wish us well in this endeavour – but we have a mountain to climb.
SIR NICK HARVEY MP WAS ADDRESSING THE EURODEFENSE CONFERENCE XXICE, BERLIN – 2 DECEMBER 2014