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Simply absurd

Posted by Richard Thursday, October 13, 2005

As flagged up yesterday, today sees the publication by the Centre for Policy Studies of my report on European defence integration called "The Wrong Side of the Hill: the secret realignment of UK Defence Policy with the EU". The full paper can be downloaded from here.

Predictably, media coverage has been meagre. Talking to a respected senior journalist this morning, he confirmed that which is known to us all, that the subject is far too complicated for their little brains to deal with, so they spend their time prattling endlessly about whether David Cameron has taken drugs, or such trivia.

Nevertheless, we did manage to place an article with the Spectator, which is published today, and will be online tomorrow. And the Financial Times ran a scurrilous little piece, ending it by quoting the MoD dismissing my paper as "simply absurd".

Strangely, that is not the view of Major-General Julian Thompson CB OBE (pictured above). Major-General Thompson was the Commander of the British Land Forces in the 1982 Falklands War. Since leaving the British armed forces in 1986, he has become one of the most recognised military historians in the United Kingdom, broadcasting and writing widely on defence matters. In his foreword to my pamphlet, he writes:

The British Public should not be surprised by Richard North's revelations in this pamphlet: the source material is in the public domain. But if they do not know what has been happening – and the level of ignorance is in itself a concern – they should be shocked by what is revealed.

Much of the blame for public ignorance about the state of our defence can be laid at the door of the media. Occasionally one reads a serious piece on defence, such as the Christopher Booker column in The Sunday Telegraph. But at the time of writing, the most recent contributions to the debate on defence in The Daily Telegraph were: a piece on the British Army's belated acknowledgement that most women had problems with the physical demands of basic training — surprise, surprise, the US Marines discovered this in the early 1970s; and a whole page on the new range of underwear for the Army.

Defence is given little enough air time on radio and television already, and Richard North's criticism of the way that the UK is increasingly turning its back on the US as a source of defence procurement and purchasing equipment from European nations as a back door to integrating European defence, is likely to appeal to only the most open-minded and scrupulous of editors. It may be that to many in the media, integrated European defence is a 'good thing', although most of them probably could not tell you why, other than it makes them feel warm and comfortable. But what is happening should engender the very opposite sensation.

There should be concern over a number of issues, not least the 'dragging down' effect of integrating Britain's army with low quality European armies. Apart from the French Foreign Legion, marine infantry, and airborne, plus the Dutch marines, Europe's armies are military youth movements. It is not xenophobic to say this, but military common sense.

The efficiency, or otherwise, of armies is nothing to do with nationality or race. There is no military rule that says one race is better than another. It is all about cohesion and ethos, of which important ingredients are one's standards of training and attitude towards warfighting. For example, the effectiveness of the NATO contingent in Afghanistan is severely limited by some European Governments, notably the German and Spanish, being unwilling to incur casualties. Governments want the kudos of participation without the pain.

But even more worrying is the effect that de-coupling from US technology will have on the effectiveness of the UK's armed forces in the increasingly net-centric age that lies ahead. The risks are exposed here by Richard North; not least as much of the technology for European projects is being passed to the Chinese. The British taxpayer should be made aware that our armed forces will be less well-equipped, and at a greater cost, than they would have been had MoD procurement continued to mesh in with the US, instead of with Europe. Even that sector of the public to whom defence is an anathema, or yawningly boring, should surely be incensed by what is happening.

It will be interesting to see the media reaction. At least now, thanks to Richard North’s research, there is no excuse for not knowing what is going on. One question they might ask is: what are the Service Chiefs doing about such a disgraceful state of affairs?
I fear we already know the answer to that question – precisely nothing – but it was worth asking. As for the media reaction, well, it was entirely predictable, although this issue is a "slow burn". We have not heard the last of it.

Today though, we also have the Public Accounts Committee report on defence overspent, covered by the Telegraph business section. No mention of the European dimension though. And there is the report flagged up yesterday by the Financial Times yesterday on European defence integration, which is now available on-line here.

I will deal with both these reports in a separate posting, later today.

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