Tuesday, June 29, 2004

End of the Special Relationship?

The director of a prestigious US "think-tank", Frank Gaffney, has warned that if Britain signs up to the EU constitution it could mean the end of the relationship between Tony Blair and George W. Bush, because it will impose "certain common policies" on its member countries - i.e. restrictions on how they can react to terrorism.

Gaffney, director of the Center for Security Policy, in an interview with "Fox and Friends" said that the constitution "will almost certainly make the kinds of responses that the war on terror requires more difficult... possibly impossible". He said that Blair was one of Bush's most important allies, but their "special relationship" may not survive because the new EU constitution "has been driven by people who really want the union to be a rival to the United States, not a partner to it".

He explained how European countries that are our allies but also members of the EU may struggle to assist the U.S. and stay true to their own constitution. "That could have effects domestically, within the European countries as they confront a very real problem from these 'Islamofascists' just as we will be needing their help in the world-wide fight against that same phenomenon", he said.

Nor is Gaffney the only one concerned. Defence specialists both sides of the Atlantic are increasingly worried about the degree of defence integration between the UK and other EU nations. Information and technology sharing between the US and the UK is no longer deemed secure, especially as some EU member states have close trading links with potential enemies of the US. There are suspicions that technology transferred to the UK will end up in the wrong hands.

Already, a major row is brewing over the Joint Strike Fighter. Although a shared project between the US and UK, the US government is refusing permission for contractors to release to the UK the vital software "source codes" for the computers which control the flight systems and avionics. Without access to them, the aircraft could be inoperable without direct and continued US support.

There are also concerns about UK involvement in the EU’s Galileo satellite navigation and positioning system, in which the Chinese are co-partners. Again, crucial technology transfers involving weapons guidance and command and control systems may be at risk, as US Agencies fear that this technology may also fall into the wrong hands.

Altogether, defence co-operation between the US and the UK is increasingly strained, to the point where the relationships built up over decades may be severed. The constitution, therefore – and the defence implications arising from it – may, as Gaffney warns, be the last straw. Sooner, rather than later, the UK may have to decide on which side of the divide it wants to be.

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