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The smoking gun

Posted by Richard Saturday, August 06, 2005

In my prolonged travails, trying to puzzle out what is undoubtedly a realignment of UK defence policy, I have had many discussions with colleagues about what seems to be evidence of a "guiding mind".

The evidence is there to see, set out in my "defence paper". This unequivocally points to the adoption of a "Europe first" policy on defence procurement, and a gradual, even stealthy reorganisation of British armed forces aimed at harmonising both doctrines and equipment with continental forces.

What we suspected was that, following the summit meeting between Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac in December 1998 at St. Malo - when Blair agreed to integrate Britain's armed forces with those of the EU – there must have been a British government "directive" to the MoD telling it to adopt the new policy.

But, as we now learn, if there had been such a "directive" – and there surely must have been – this was not the primary executive instrument. This, it turns out was actually a new treaty, signed between the British government and five other nations – France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Sweden – on 27 July 2000.

What has confused and concealed, though, is the thoroughly misleading title, which allowed it to pass through the system without anyone really understanding the significance of what was going on. As a measure, the title does not even mention the word treaty. In full, it reads:

Framework agreement between (… the six countries) concerning measures to facilitate the restructuring and operation of the European defence industry.
Nothing in that title would even begin to warn the casual observer that this was a treaty aimed at fully integrating the armed forces of the six signatory nations and, in a document comprising 48 Articles, you have to get to Part 7, Articles 45-49 before you reach the meat. But there, under the heading, "Harmonisation of military requirements", you can read as follows:

ARTICLE 45

The Parties recognise the need to harmonise the military requirements of their armed forces by establishing a methodology that improves co-ordination across all collaborative bodies and sets out a permanent process for:
(a) agreeing on the definition of a common concept for force employment and developing a common understanding of the corresponding military capabilities to be implemented;
(b) developing harmonised force development and equipment acquisition planning;
(c) establishing a profile of investment for defence and industry;
(d) developing common user requirements in order to facilitate further co-operation on equipment acquisition;
(e) conducting a common dialogue with defence industry.

ARTICLE 46

1. The Parties recognise the need to co-operate in establishing a long term master-plan that would present a common view of their future operational needs. This would constitute a framework for harmonised equipment acquisition planning and would provide orientation for a harmonised defence related R&T policy.
2. To that effect, the Parties shall undertake regular and comprehensive exchanges of Documents and other relevant information and shall undertake co-operative work. This shall cover:
(a) a detailed force development process, with strong supporting rationale to which the Parties shall be prepared to subscribe;
(b) a detailed analysis of military capabilities;
(c) the national planning status and priority of equipment and system programmes.

ARTICLE 47

1. The Parties recognise the need to co-operate as early as possible in the genesis of the requirement up to and including the specification of the systems they want to develop and/or purchase.
2. To that effect, at each stage of the acquisition process, the Parties shall undertake regular and comprehensive exchanges of Documents and other relevant information and shall undertake co-operative work. This shall cover:
(a) the establishment of staff targets;
(b) the performance of simulations, technical-operational studies, pre-feasibility and risk reduction studies in order to compare the efficiency of different solutions and optimise their specifications;
(c) the realisation of technological demonstrators and their experimentation in the field;
(d) the establishment of common staff requirements and specifications.
3. The Parties shall identify projects that may have the potential for co-operation in the areas of research, development, procurement and logistic support, in order to improve overall military capability, especially in the field of Intelligence, Strategic Transport and Command and Control.

ARTICLE 48

1. The Parties shall organise consultation between them in order to harmonise their programme management and equipment acquisition procedures.
2. The Parties shall seek the ways and means to task and fund an organisation with legal personality to manage programmes and proceed to common equipment acquisition.

ARTICLE 49

The Parties shall define and implement the methods, means and organisation to undertake and support the tasks envisaged in Articles 45 to 48, and shall set out detailed objectives and procedures in a specific international instrument.
The treaty itself was signed on behalf of the UK government by the then Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, at the Farnborough Air Show, an event that was completely missed by the mainstream media and reported by specialists in the same misleading terms as the treaty title, viz: "Six European Nations sign defence industry restructuring treaty."

What happened then demonstrates much of what is wrong with our system of government and what passes for parliamentary scrutiny. To sign the treaty, Hoon invoked "Crown prerogative", but it then had to be ratified. To do this, the government applied what is known as the Ponsonby Rule which simply means that the treaty is "laid" before parliament for 21 days and, in the absence of an objection, is deemed to be approved – the so-called "negative procedure".

The treaty was laid before parliament on 1 November 2000, in the form of a "Command Paper" which included, as required, an explanatory memorandum. Again, its title was calculated to mislead, declaring itself to be an "Explanatory Memorandum for an Agreement to Facilitate the Restructuring and Operation of the European Defence Industry".

The only clue of this event given to MPs was buried deep in the appendix to the Order Paper of the day, item 8 under "miscellaneous", again announcing a "framework agreement" on "measures to facilitate the restructuring and operation of the European defence industry". It shared space with a Home Office Minute "concerning a contingent liability in respect of a contract to supply information technology systems and applications to the proposed Electoral Commission" and the Report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of the Magistrates' Courts Service.

The government did, however, extend the 21 days to allow the House of Commons Defence Committee to report, which it did on 7 February 2001. In its First Report of the session, based largely on testimony from the MoD, it concluded that: "The intended effects of the Agreement should bring overdue improvements in the European defence market. Ratification of the Framework Agreement is the essential next step, which should not be delayed."

With that, without so much as a debate, much less a vote, the government deposited the ratification papers and the treaty thus came into force. The media was asleep, parliament was asleep and, in particular, the opposition was asleep. That is the way we are governed.

As to the treaty, what has made the story doubly difficult for us is that it has been concluded entirely outside the framework of the European Union and the WEU. Clearly, it is part of the overall plan for European defence integration as all the signatories are EU members and the recitals refer to making a contribution to "the construction of a common European security and defence policy". But it is not an EU treaty as such.

At the time, we were more concerned with the up-front Nice Treaty, which was agreed in December 2000 and we were shortly to become embroiled in that totally unnecessary crisis, the Foot and Mouth epidemic. Us EU-watchers missed this one completely.

But be under no illusions. In its own words, this treaty sets out the framework for "establishing a long term master-plan that would present a common view of… future operational needs." This is the smoking gun.