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Posted by Richard Sunday, February 20, 2005 ,

The Booker column today picks up on the from yesterday’s Bush interview in the Telegraph, focusing on the defence issue.

He also refers to a letter in the Telegraph last week, from Nicholas Soames, the Tory defence spokesman, which highlighted the chaos of Britain's defence procurement. Soames cites the strange paralysis that seems to have overcome plans to provide the Navy with two super-carriers, and the Army with the £6 billion Future Rapid Effect System (Fres).

However, says Booker, “He cannot have anticipated the startling interview that George Bush gave to the newspaper yesterday, in which the President's stark warning of the crisis threatening Nato, through the EU's bid to set up an autonomous defence identity, set Mr Soames's concerns in a very much wider and clearer perspective.”

Booker sees the clues as to the real story behind the President's warning in the speech made by Nick Witney in Madrid last Monday, a man whose task is to co-ordinate the building of an autonomous EU defence identity, quite separate from both the US and Nato. He continues:

What particularly alarms Washington is the way that this is being set up in deliberate defiance of the US, not least in the building of closer links with China. The US fiercely opposes the EU's wish to lift the embargo on arms sales to China, and its grant to China of a 20 per cent share in Galileo, the EU satellite navigation system which could enable the armed forces of the EU and China to operate independently of America's GPS system.

The man most put on the spot by this rivalry is Tony Blair. While France and Germany may be the keenest to build up an independent defence identity for the EU (as Chancellor Schröder made clear last week in a speech delivered in front of a disconcerted Donald Rumsfeld), the enthusiastic support of senior people at the MoD is equally significant, as reflected in Mr Witney's appointment to run the new agency.

If Mr Soames saw the speed at which all this is moving, he would understand that Fres is supposed to be an EU-wide system, directed via Galileo – which will render British forces incapable of operating alongside the Americans. He would also realise that the delay of those super-carriers is caused by their proposed key role in the EU's Rapid Reaction Force.

Mr Blair may be keen to stay in with his friend Mr Bush. But he is rapidly being tugged by his EU partners and British officials to the point where he will have to choose between Nato and the EU, and sever that "special relationship" forever.

Already the Pentagon is refusing to release to Britain the electronic codes without which the Anglo-US joint strike fighter will be unable to fly. The disastrous prospect is that, in the name of "European integration", we will produce such a shambles that we will have no defence forces worth the name.
This is an interesting perspective. On this Blog, we have often referred to the dilemma facing Blair in having to chose between the EU and the US, but Booker suggests that we are so reliant on the US that, if we fall into the EU sphere, we may end up with seriously depleted forces, without the capability to act at all.

Booker runs two other EU-related stories, that are worth a look. We’ll do an analysis of them later today in a separate post.