Callanan: Europe’s defence future lies in a revitalised NATO, not duplication at the EU level

As Europe’s leaders prepare to debate European defence cooperation in Brussels next week, MEPs have been debating the subject in Strasbourg.

As Europe’s leaders prepare to debate European defence cooperation in Brussels next week, MEPs have been debating the subject in Strasbourg. European Conservatives and Reformists Group leader Martin Callanan MEP disagreed with the many calls for a standalone EU defence apparatus, arguing that Europe’s defence is best guaranteed by a revitalised NATO that ‘keeps the US in’.

He argued that Europe does not have sufficient resources to stand apart from the USA, and that the European countries who would do the heavy-lifting are not willing to hand over their assets to a centralised EU HQ. Most importantly, he argued, troops would not be willing to risk their lives for a flag that they do not feel a strong affinity towards. Mr Callanan said that Europe should continue to cooperate closely on a bilateral and multilateral basis, but such an approach requires willpower rather than complex new bureaucracies.

He said:
“When it comes to defence in Europe, the right approach should be one of cooperation, capability and compatibility. That is the approach that Europe has developed for over 60 years: under the NATO umbrella.

“NATO is a tried and tested alliance. Yet many here seek to undermine it with EU bureaucracy through the CSDP. They seek to duplicate its roles in order to create an EU army through the back door.

“Yes, we all recognise that NATO needs to modernise. When first formed in 1949 its first Secretary General said its role was “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.” The challenges of the 21st century are different to 1949. However, NATO’s strength ultimately is the transatlantic security relationship that it embodies. We still need to ‘keep the Americans in’.

“European and North American cooperation is as relevant today as it has ever been. Unfortunately, under President Obama, the so-called ‘Pacific President’, the USA is in danger of turning its strategic focus to its western coast. We are pushing them away. Some may argue that the only solution therefore is to form a common European defence. But such a plan is flawed on many levels.

“Firstly, European countries simply do not have the resources. NATO spends around one trillion dollars on defence. Two thirds comes from the US. Of the remaining third spent by EU states, 70 percent of that is spent by just four: the UK, France, Germany and Italy. This would not be a ‘European’ defence because so few countries are doing the heavy lifting. Yet even if we add up our total EU-wide spending, it pales into insignificance in comparison to that of the US.

“Secondly, European countries are not going to hand over command and control of their assets to an EU Operational Headquarters. Certainly Europe’s biggest defence power isn’t, and it has already vetoed such an HQ. So we are left with a de facto intergovernmental arrangement where countries cooperate and pledge to defend each other’s interests. That sounds a lot like NATO to me. Yet through this duplication of effort we reduce the resources available for already-overstretched military capability. These are resources we could spend on hardware and training, rather than in playing with toy soldiers.

“But the most important consideration is with our troops themselves. I am sure that everyone in this House has the utmost respect for their own countries’ armed forces. I pay tribute to those from mine: the bravery and heroism of British troops is marvellous. These people fought for their flag, for their country and – in my country – for their Queen. Do we honestly believe that people would feel the same willingness to fight and possibly pay the ultimate sacrifice for the European flag? I think not.

“European countries already have a long and valuable history of bilateral and multilateral cooperation in missions. This should be continued. We have to work together where possible. Strategic deficiencies will be overcome through this approach, which is already embodied in NATO’s ‘Smart Defence’ initiative. In the recent Mali mission, for example, UK transport planes were deployed to assist with lifting French assets, alongside UK surveillance planes. But those kind of bilateral cooperative measures do not need a new bureaucracy at the EU level to implement them. They just need willpower of the states concerned.

“That willpower has not always been forthcoming across all EU Member States. Nothing illustrated this point more forcefully than the division caused by the Iraq war a decade ago. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of that conflict it showed very vividly why national independence is critical to so many states.

“In these challenging times we cannot afford to run two defence organisations in Brussels. We have one very successful one already. It has kept the peace for 60 years in Europe. It embodies the transatlantic security relationship. And it still represents our best hope for security in the 21st century.

“Every step we take towards a European common defence, the USA takes a step away from NATO. In an age when rising economic powers are not always liberal-democratic states we must remain resolutely united across the Atlantic.

“The EU needs to learn the lessons of the euro crisis. We must stop rushing into creating the trappings of European statehood. Instead we should focus practically on what actually works, not on creating new bureaucracies that do not.

“NATO works. So let’s stick with it and stop this vain attempt to create a European army through the back door.”

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