Monday, July 11, 2005

That special relationship

Although my post over the weekend, which touched on the special relationship, attracted a modicum of dissent, such is the importance of that relationship that, breaking away from the ocean of triviality that infests our media and also the internet, I thought I would return to this grown-up subject again.

If this suggests an element dyspepsia, so be it, but in one thing we share an element of agreement with this Blog's favourite troll, Christina Speight, in that she sometimes wonders whether the people of this great nation are actually worth saving.

That thought occurred to me – not for the first time – while reviewing the traffic on the Eurosceptic e-mail groups in the immediate aftermath of the London bombing. With a speed that was quite stunning, the net was cluttered with conspiracy theories of increasingly fantasmagorical proportions. Some, if they are allowed full flight, would have it that president Bush took time off from the G8 summit – no doubt leaving his exact double behind – personally to plant the bombs on the London Underground and the No. 30 bus.

The point, of course, is that the great weakness of many Eurosceptics – some might say the fatal weakness – is their willingness to chase after any and every running hare, instead of staying focused on the issue at hand. Underlying that also, within a wide swathe of the Eurosceptic community, is an element of irrational anti-Americanism, which seems sometimes more fervent and vitriolic that the antipathy towards the European Union.

This is reflected in routine traffic, where I would venture to suggest that the number of Eurosceptic posts expressing hostility to the US involvement in Iraq far exceed in number those critical of all aspects of the EU's activity. Furthermore, when it comes to crucial issues like the defence of this still sovereign nation, and the growing threat of European defence integration, interest is slight outside the domain of this Blog. In fact, such is the general lack of interest that it is noticeable that defence-orientated posts on even this Blog attract fewer comments than on other subjects.

Trying to make sense of this, one conclusion that can be drawn is that, since the First World War, our defence interests have been so intimately bound up with the United States that defence and American co-operation have come to mean the same thing. As a result, the nascent anti-Americanism in our community precludes concern over what amounts to a deterioration in our defence capability, as this also means a weakening of our trans-Atlantic ties, which is seen as a desirable objective.

In this paradigm, increased European defence integration is seen as the lesser of the two evils, and even desirable if its means increased detachment from the Americans.

That the "special relationship" is given substance by its military dimension is affirmed by its author, none other than Winston S. Churchill who, in his famous “iron curtain speech” delivered in Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri on 5 March 1946, sought to define it as part of "realising our overall strategic concept".

The crux of that concept was, Churchill said, what he called the fraternal association of the English-speaking peoples. "This means a special relationship between the British Commonwealth and Empire and the United States," he declared, adding:

This is no time for generalities, and I will venture to be precise. Fraternal association requires not only the growing friendship and mutual understanding between our two vast but kindred systems of society, but the continuance of the intimate relationship between our military advisers, leading to common study of potential dangers, the similarity of weapons and manuals of instructions, and to the interchange of officers and cadets at technical colleges. It should carry with it the continuance of the present facilities for mutual security by the joint use of all Naval and Air Force bases in the possession of either country all over the world.
It was to this that I was alluding in my own speech in Kings' College last October, when I noted the historical similarity in equipment between the British and the US forces, arguing that, "the equipment is defined by the purpose, the purpose is defined by the thinking and the thinking is the same." I went on to state:

The Royal Marines train alongside the US Marines, the SBS train alongside the Seals, the SAS alongside the US Special Forces, RAF pilots alongside USAF pilots. Ditto Navy personnel, where cross-postings on nuclear submarines are an essential part of the manning rostas. Both forces have an active programme of exchange postings, so that a US-badged aircraft could just as easily have a British as an American pilot. We share equipment, intelligence and, at a strategic level, work as one. The early warning system in Fylingdales is part of the US network of global early warning radars, the AWACs system is an integral part of the US system – and uses US equipment. US fighters based in Britain form an integral part of the British air defence system.
It terms of commonality of equipment, this is why the purchases by the MOD of German trucks and Italian command vehicles (highlighted in Booker yesterday) – to say nothing of the Eurofighter – are so important. This is not a "little Englander" objection. Taking the cue from Churchill, the adoption of European rather than US (or British) equipment is an outward manifestation of a shift from the "special relationship" to favouring the "European Defence Identity".

With this, however, we also come across another problem – technophobia. So sophisticated and complex has military technology become that many erstwhile commentators, unable to deal with it, have given up analysing military affairs. Hence the Conservative front bench defence spokesmen who insist on describing FRES as medium-weight armoured vehicles rather than acknowledging that it is a whole new battlefield concept, with phenomenal political implications.

That phenomenon has, in my view, definitely affected the debate on the German truck decision. The supplier, MAN Nutzfahrzeuge AG, (as I remarked in another post) is not just a another truck manufacturer. It also produces a sophisticated electronic fleet management system, called "Telematics" which has been incorporated into the military programme, thus enabling what it calls "Network Centric Logistics".

That, as I noted, started ringing alarm bells. At the forefront of modern military technology is the concept of "digitising the battlespace", which underpins the FRES concept, providing command and control capability throughout the force, with – in the jargon of the speciality – "a horizontally and vertically integrated digital information network that supports warfighting systems and assures command and control decision cycle superiority."

What very few people understand, however, is how this impenetrable jargon links with an apparently straightforward decision to buy something like trucks. But, shorn of jargon, the concept is actually very simple.

Imagine, if you will, a World War II artillery battery, which like as not would fire from fixed lines, with a relatively low fire rate of say, 3-5 rounds a minute. Now go to the near-future, and you find single guns, employing a much wider range of ammunition, not only firing at a rate of 90 rounds a minute – an extraordinary expenditure of munitions – but also up with the fighting formations and moving after every shoot to avoid counter-battery fire.

Where resupply was difficult enough 60 years ago, keeping modern guns supplied is a logistic nightmare, requiring trucks fitted with advanced electronics systems – oddly, similar to the supermarket EPOS systems – backed by satellite location and communication. And, since the logistics systems must mesh with the combat systems, once a logistics system has been mapped out, the combat system must conform in order to be usable.

Thus, a decision to buy German trucks could well presage a decision to buy German logistic electronics, which in turn will dictate the choice of combat electronic systems. The decision to go "European", therefore, is being dictated not by the politicians but by the technicians. Then, because the European systems will not be compatible with US systems, perforce, the "special relationship" comes grinding to a halt.

Nor is the luxury of "going it alone" an option. Given the expense of modern battlefield systems, in order to procure a modern war-fighting capability, we must engage in joint development. This can either be with the "Europeans" or the US, but it cannot be with both as the two are mutally incompatible. We must therefore make the choice.

In this, we can make a choice between an old and reliable ally - who just happens to be the technology leader - or we can go with second-division and distinctly dubious Europeans. The choice should be a no-brainer but the process of integration by stealth means that key decisions are being taken out of our hands, without anyone being fully aware of what is happening.

One would like to think that, had he been alive today, Churchill would have recognised the danger – as he did in the 30s with German re-armament – but, clearly, no contemporary mainstream politician or commentator is past first base. Instead, we get that fatuous analysis from Heritage, which completely and dangerously misses the point.

Not for nothing did I write, last September, that we were sleepwalking into disaster. The real problem, though, is that no one seems to give a damn.

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