by Professor Anthony Glees, Director of the Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies at the University of Buckingham ///
On 19 and 20 December EU heads of government and high EU officials will meet to consider, in particular, the future direction of the European Union’s Common Security and Defence Policy, the CSDP. No one knows whether the summit will produce concrete results.
What the EU Commission believes should be agreed has been carefully set out by Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the EU and Vice President of the EU Commission. In her report (published on 15 October) she urged heads to consent to the establishment of an over-arching security and defence strategy as the basis of further joint policy-making as well as several EU security and defence measures, including several major technical projects to boost the defence industries of Europe (which will of course provide jobs for British companies, graduates and workers).
Her core argument is that on the one hand the external pressures on EU are increasing, both to its east but also in the Middle East, Arab and Sub-Saharan Africa but that on the other Europe’s traditional security mainstay, the USA remains intent on turning its focus towards the Pacific-Asia area and away from Europe and the Middle East.
Whilst the relationship with the USA is ‘essential’, Lady Ashton says, the EU must do more for its own security, project its own power, particularly as member nations have less cash and are cutting back their military budgets.
The case she makes is so entirely rational and logical that it is hard to imagine agreement could not be forthcoming or that a British prime minister, speaking for Britain and British interests, could even consider contesting it.
For one thing, the security and defence areas the EU is concerned with are specifically about the EU as a whole, not about any single member state, and about how the EU as a whole can protect itself from external threats and achieve authority in tackling those nations and groupings whose hostility is directed to the EU as a whole but not to any specific nation within it. For another, the challenges to the security of most EU states, especially to the big five (the UK, France, Germany, Spain and Italy) are ones that are common to each of them.
Whether we look at the long standing and persistent danger posed by Islamist terrorism, the proliferation of WMD, the implosion of failed states, the fallout from regional conflicts (in the shape of bloodshed or refugees), or at organised crime, and new security threats like cyber attacks, all are international, supranational even, definitely transnational but rarely if ever found in only one European (or western state). Combating transnational threats requires transnational intelligence-led security and defence action.
If ever there were a strong argument for European cooperation and integration it is in the field of security policy. Whilst Theresa May has demanded the UK ‘repatriate’ over 100 common security measures, she has also said that the UK should immediately seek to re-join 35 of them once, and remain members of Europol and Eurojust.
It is the EU as a whole that is challenged by intra-state conflict in the Middle East, by the undermining of weak states by Al Qaeda in the Sahel and Horn of Africa as well as by pressure from Putin’s Russia, clearly visible at the moment in what the president of Ukraine is doing to a supposedly free people who want to associate with the EU. It is patently obvious that without a strategy and without concerted power to back it up, Eastern European states (even where they are already members of the EU) can be bullied by Russia without fear of sanction.
Working together to project European values and to defend them through intervention is crucial. Britain understands this. But British governments have repeatedly shown their willingness (indeed their preference) to defend shared European interests in partnership with other states. Libya, intervention in Arab North and in Sub-Saharan Africa with the French are all examples of this. Britain does not, in fact, like to go it alone; indeed as a founding member of NATO in 1955, Britain is the staunchest supporter of joint action to keep Britain and Europe safe.
But in future we must be able to count on stronger cooperation, most importantly from the Germans who cannot any longer in good conscience maintain their neutral indifference towards intervention along Europe’s borders as we approach the 70th anniversary of 1945.
Britain, properly in my view, regards itself as a nation with global interests that require a global reach to protect them. It is this logic that dictates we should continue to possess a viable nuclear deterrent force, remain well-rooted in Gibraltar which gives British defence forces and intelligence agencies an unparalleled overview of North Africa and the entire Mediterranean and devote significant resources to an outstanding intelligence community, working in close tandem with the other major intelligence agencies, most notably with those of the USA but also with our EU partner agencies and within the EU itself, whether in Europol or INTCENT.
Within the EU, Britain has a clear leadership role in making Europe secure and ensuring the western values which underpin the EU can be properly and credibly defended. All the areas Catherine Ashton points to as requiring attention are areas where Britain has a leading role – the leading role – to play.
Whether the need is to address threats from cyber, from space, at sea, to energy supply and border security, Britain has the technological skills and the hardware and still, just about, the industrial base to meet EU needs.
What is really alarming is that it is virtually impossible to find any British political leader who will point to the good sense of developing the CSDP of the EU and make the case that to do so is not just in the interests of the EU but of Britain. It underscores how Britain sees itself and its role in the world whilst also allowing us to invest in our high-tech and engineering industries.
Our government has allowed itself to be frightened into total silence about anything of benefit from Brussels by UKIP and little-England Eurosceptics. It is ‘frit’ as Margaret Thatcher would have put it. Just as it has failed repeatedly to make the economic case for our membership of the EU – even when 80 per cent of CBI members say it would be a grave mistake to leave Europe, even when Toyota says it will leave Britain if we go in 2017, even when they know the £750m invested by BMW in Oxford and the thousands of jobs that hang on it will be blown away by Brexit, so it fails now to show leadership and explain why there is a basic need to defend the EU, our common values and interests together with our partners. No single state can afford to do this on its own even if it wished to.
The December Summit offers us a great opportunity to flex our political and economic muscles and finally produce that grand strategy that so many think is vital. I can only hope that David Cameron will seize the moment for Britain.