|Britain will never join an EU army
By Liam Fox, Britain's Shadow Defence Secretary
Yesterday the Commons was able to debate the role of our Armed Forces, a rare thing these days despite the increasing commitments placed on the Services by this Government.
There is now no doubt that the German presidency intends to resurrect the corpse of the European Constitution. Part of the debate that will be reawakened will be about the EU's defence pretensions and the long-held desire of some Europeans to diminish the influence of America on the continent.
To make sense of the debate, we must understand the key differences between the terms "European" i.e. relating to the continent of Europe and "EU" – relating to the political institutions based in Brussels. For example, Norway and Turkey are both important members of Nato involved in the defence of continental Europe, but are not members of the EU. There has never been a problem with the EU acting as the delivery arm of Nato when it is politically difficult for America to act. The difficulty comes with EU ambitions not to supplement Nato, but supplant it. That is unacceptable to the Tory party, which sees Nato, the most successful defence alliance we have ever known, as the bedrock of our defence and security.
At a practical level, those who favour a greater role for the EU have three essential problems – the lack of defence spending among EU members, the lack of a common approach to foreign policy and the question of democratic accountability.
I often refer to the fact that Britain spends just 2.5 per cent of its GDP on defence, its lowest figure since 1930. Yet, while this is low by Britain's standards, it is much more than many of our European partners spend. Germany spends only 1.4 per cent of its GDP on defence. For Spain, the figure is a mere 1.3 per cent, and Holland 1.7 per cent. Austria spends just 0.7 per cent and is considering reducing it further.
This is theoretically not an insurmountable problem, but to overcome it requires a revolution in thinking, and a transformation, particularly among low-spending countries, which shows no signs of even stirring on the horizon.
The idea that any of the EU states would ever be willing to contemplate spending on a scale that would match the level of protection afforded by the American defence umbrella is laughable. It is an issue that is likely to grow in significance when the British public awaken to the fact that, in combined Nato missions such as Afghanistan, British taxpayers and troops are carrying a disproportionate burden because too many of our European allies are unwilling to shoulder their fair share.
The second problem relates to foreign policy. Defence policy inevitably follows foreign policy: it is about projecting the force when needed to support your foreign policy objectives. Any common defence policy must act in step with a co-ordinated foreign policy. History teaches us that national self-interest will usually trump supra-national aspirations. Events in the Balkans since 1990 have shown how difficult it is to merge individual countries' foreign policy objectives.
The crisis in the Balkans cruelly exposed the gap between EU rhetoric and the ability to act effectively. Unable to keep a peace that did not exist and unwilling to involve themselves in conflict, Europe's Hour had indeed come, but it failed to live up to the challenge. It was America that was the prime mover in saving the Balkans from Euro-paralysis. It was rightly pointed out that events in the former Yugoslavia exposed deep foreign policy differences among member states and that the problem lay not simply in a lack of mechanisms or structures, but rather in profound divergence of interests and history among member states.
Indeed, the Yugoslav crisis was a salutary lesson in the limits of European integration, and specifically in the difficulty of sharing sovereignty in the sensitive areas of security and defence.
So, there is neither the financial framework nor the coincidence of foreign policy interests that would sustain a common European defence posture.
Yet it is the third problem, that of democratic accountability, that is truly insurmountable. The decision of any government to commit its troops to combat is perhaps the most serious decision that can be taken. Because of this, the government will, ultimately, be held accountable to the electorate. Britain can never allow its troops to be sent into action by any supra-national body, still less one with no democratic accountability. This must remain the exclusive political territory of a sovereign British government. It cannot and must not be a role for the EU.
But notwithstanding these problems, the Euro-defence train rolls on and we must make our position clear. Too often we have been involved in the early stages of clearly integrationist projects, in the vain hope that they will change direction later. A prime example is the