Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The enemy within

Robin NiblittThe two eminent gentlemen pictured here hardly fit the part of enemies of the state – and nor indeed do their cvs suggest that they might be anything other than upstanding members of the US political establishment.

Both, however, are members of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), an organisation which exhibits strong sympathy for the European Union. The first, by the name of Robin Niblett, is an executive vice president and director of the Europe program while the other, Pierre Chao, is Director of Defense Industrial Initiatives. Their cvs are as long as your arm. Crucially, both have testified "on a number of occasions" to Congress and are regarded as authorities on "US-European relations", where their siren voices are heard in favour of European defence integration.

Their influence, though, more is widely felt, not least in today's online edition of the Financial Times, where they offer a commentary on the recent agreement by president Bush to release to Britain sensitive technology on the Joint Strike Fighter.

This issue, though is not about "toys" – it is about influence, malign, insidious propaganda that insinuates its way into the political consciousness, disguised as rational analysis – and the FT piece is a classic example of the genre.

Pierre ChaoAs analysis, it starts off well enough – as you would expect. Niblett and Chao tell us that the visit by Blair to Washington "confirmed the remarkable confluence between UK and US foreign and security policy priorities." They then add that, "it concluded by addressing an issue that is eating away at the transatlantic partnership. US-UK defence technology sharing is a technical and relatively obscure, but periodically explosive, issue."

That much, they have got absolutely right, which is why we have covered the issue so closely on this blog. The latest flashpoint, they say, is over technology access to the JSF but, they argue, rightly, that this is just the tip of a deeper problem.

So far, so good, but then the worm starts insinuating itself into the argument. In the past few years, we are told:

…the US has proved unwilling, in spite of repeated British requests, to overhaul the Kafkaesque maze of restrictions that hampers the exchange of defence technology between the two countries. This situation persists in spite of the long history of sharing information in highly sensitive areas such as nuclear deterrence, classified intelligence and joint military operations.

British representatives, including Mr Blair, have pointed out this glaring discrepancy to their US counterparts, and asked politely whether the US system could be adapted to reflect the close bilateral security relationship. The responses have sounded positive but little has yet happened. Why?
Having posed the question, according to the Niblett/Chao duo, the answers are all one-sided. Partly, the reluctance to share technology stems from the "US desire to maintain technological superiority over all adversaries", in which context the UK is seen as a potential source – like any other country – of leaks of sensitive US technologies to third countries or actors. Secondly, the exchange founders on a US export-control bureaucracy that has no incentive to change and, thirdly, a small clique in the US Congress that believes passionately in further tightening rather than easing the US defence export control regime.

That said, we are told that the status quo "is no longer sustainable". British politicians now believe that Washington is taking for granted UK contributions in Iraq and elsewhere; without closer co-operation on developing and building interoperable defence systems, the ability of UK forces to fight effectively alongside their US counterparts will be eroded over time and a central facet of the special relationship will be undercut; and the new UK defence industrial strategy requires that the UK government possess "operational sovereignty" over its key defence capabilities.

Thus, do Niblitt and Chao argue that the two governments should agree on a framework within which specific companies and individuals from the two countries can be certified to share defence-related information and technologies – from the mundane to the most sensitive – without restrictions, but under the condition that enforceable controls would prevent unauthorised release.

Then follows the punch line: the obstacle to this solution, they say, lies in the US, where some would rather see the Anglo-US relationship go down in flames than alter the US technology-control regime one iota. From this they conclude that, if Mr Bush is serious about sustaining a strong US-UK relationship, "he must put his personal authority behind a durable solution".

Taken at a run, this might not seem terribly objectionable, except that there is no mention, anywhere, of the UK’s growing engagement in European defence integration. As we pointed out in an earlier post - and frequently before that – Blair has made strong commitments to the EU on defence integration and is working closely with European nations which do not share the US view of the world. In fact, most often, they are hostile to it.

Not only that, but through the European Defence Agency and the Framework Agreement, the UK has committed to work closely on defence research and industrial projects which are competitive with US ventures, while the MoD and British defence firms are co-operating with European enterprises which in turn have agreements on technology sharing with strategic competitors of the US, namely China and Russia.

Any clinical and honest evaluation of the relationship between the US and Britain would, therefore, advise caution. The two countries may be friends, but the US national interest must prevail. As long as the UK is working with a cast of characters which are potentially hostile to US interests, the US would be mad to open its books completely.

But then, the CSIS has consistently supported the idea of European defence integration and, no doubt, from its lavish Washington office actively lobbies on the Hill and in the State Department in support of the project. Thus, with Nesbitt and Chao arguing for Bush to give the UK what it wants, without addressing the very real and sensible concerns about technology prevalent in the US, the CSIS is essentially playing the European game.

Certainly, the CSIS is not supporting the US national interest and, by arguing that the UK should have access to US technology despite its attachment to EU defence interests, it is not really assisting the UK, in helping defer the decision between the US and EU which must soon be made – making out that British attachments to the EU and the US are somehow compatible.

Thus do the siren voices speak, uttering their soothing words, concealing from and confusing policy-makers about the growing threat of European defence integration. They are the enemy within.

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