Select Committee on Defence Written Evidence

Memorandum by Sir Michael Quinlan GCB, KCB, CB

  I offer the following general reflections as a private individual with some past experience in related matters but no current official or institutional responsibilities. The reflections are moreover framed in advance of a planned period, later this year, of deeper and more systematic study of the issues.

  1.  There is a substantial history of attempts at closer European co-operation in the defence field, reaching back to the 1948 Brussels Treaty and the plans for a European Defence Community in the mid-1950s. The list includes a range of efforts under Western European Union both before and after its re-invigoration in the 1980s; the work of the Eurogroup and its subordinate bodies during the 1970s and early 1980s; numerous projects for collaboration in the development and production of military equipment, and joint forces like the Franco-German Brigade/Corps and the United Kingdom-Netherlands Marine Corps. It is to be hoped that the new endeavour will both carefully exploit the positive acquis from this history and learn from its various disappointments.

  2.  Some of the rhetoric surrounding the endeavour has stressed European independence (by implication, mostly from the United States). The realism and wisdom of this is open to debate, for several reasons. Firstly, both the worldwide range of US interests and the nature of the US political structure and indeed society mean that in practice there is unlikely to be any international situation—or one of substantial interest nevertheless to Europeans—about which the United States has truly no opinion and no preference; and the probability that European governments would collectively agree to act militarily in ways running counter to US opinion and preference is and ought to be remote. Moreover, as phases of the Bosnia experience warn, there are potential dangers in situations where the US polity has strong views yet in the pursuit of them is not constrained by on-the-ground involvement. Secondly, the credibility of any large military enterprise by Europeans alone will be questionable (at least unless and until both political cohesion and collective military capability are proven far beyond current levels) in the eyes not only of the countries presumably expected to commit forces but also of potential adversaries. Thirdly, as again the Bosnia experience warns, it is hazardous to embark on large peace-keeping commitments without assurance of extensive all-round military back-up—not being aimed at the current enterprise, and very hard, at the least, to guarantee without the US—if things go wrong and serious combat has to be envisaged. Real-life scenarios will not necessarily come neatly labelled in the "Petersberg" categories; even if they start so they may not remain so. And any idea of calling on "NATO assets" in the face of significant transatlantic misgiving would surely be fantasy.

  3.  For reasons such as these, political aspirations for the new endeavour ought to be expressed in modest terms. It should not be looked to as the basis of any shift of kind, as compared with the present, in the common foreign and security policy, which the European Union seeks to build.

  4.  All this said, it is undoubtedly the case that the aggregate of European military contribution in recent Western peace-keeping and peace-making efforts has too often been inadequate in volume, quality and timeliness. A drive to do considerably better is plainly needed; and "Petersberg" and comparable tasks are a good initial focus for that—relevant and not too ambitious. The drive, endorsed now by all EU heads of government, could be made a salutary collective stimulus to individual countries to improve, or at least not reduce further, their defence resource inputs (this being, notably in respect of Germany as the biggest and richest EU member almost a sine qua non of any truly substantial new collective achievement); to take domestically-uncomfortable decisions required to secure from those inputs national military outputs better attuned to the likely needs of the future; and to accept the costs and inconveniences of coordinating these national outputs more efficiently so as to produce a stronger collective output. It is to be hoped that the drive will include establishing practical machinery—eg for information exchange, monitoring and collective scrutiny of concrete achievements—to apply that stimulus to maximum effect.

  5.  As the above discussion implies, the emphasis ought to be more on developing practical military capabilities for use a" toutes fins utiles than on debating political conditions, scenarios and goals. If usable military instruments are in place, the specific circumstances of particular emergencies will usually shape their political management. It seems very desirable accordingly that the enterprise should move as speedily as possible to the sphere of defence professionals, to tackle concrete matters like improved quality, greater commonality and compatibility and more frequent inter-operation in such fields as force size and structure, readiness, deployability, communications, logistics, training, infrastructure, medical support and public relations, as well as operating doctrines and procedures. In all these respects I hope is beyond argument that NATO practice, criteria and standards are always to be taken as the benchmark.

  6.  It will clearly be desirable to exploit particular national strengths and specialisms in the apportionment of tasks. Not all countries cover everything in depth, and it may well be sensible to invite some—perhaps especially the smaller countries?—to concentrate on certain functions, provided that a minimum of commitment to the risk-carrying front-line tasks is maintained. It is doubtful however whether thoroughgoing interdependence—that is, conditions in which one country relies wholly on another for some crucial component of basic military effectiveness—can yet be the general model within Europe. That would require either a sense of being a common polity in a degree as yet far from achievement, or else an acceptance of the pace of the most reluctant (which, amid the diverse histories and traditions of European countries in military matters, might sometimes prove to be very reluctant).

  7.  I keenly hope that the focus of the endeavour will not be blurred by any attempt to weave into it new attempts at collaboration in the procurement of defence equipment. Such collaboration may or may not now merit fresh attention; but past experience amply demonstrates the formidable industrial, political and financial as well as military complications, which beset it. To encumber the St Malo/Helsinki drive with such a burden would risk seriously impeding its pace and its prospects.

  8.  I am of course aware that the design and management of the endeavour raises especial complications in the institutional dimension, given the overlap/underlap problems that result from the facts that important European members of NATO are not, and not soon likely to be, members of the European Union, and that conversely certain members of the European Union are not, and not soon likely to be, members of NATO. I have no detailed comments to offer on the resolution of these difficulties; but I hope that two key principles will be accepted as being a strong presumption of transparency in dealing with all interested countries, and the avoidance of any veto power for those who may elect to stand aside from action either generally or in particular situations.

  9.  Transparency in information and indeed in regular consultation will be of particular importance in relation to the United States. It may be that some reactions visible in the United States to the initiative are unduly critical or apprehensive; but it is then all the more necessary to frame public explanations by Europeans of its nature and purpose in ways that do not encourage such reactions. There are, across the US political spectrum, already enough sceptics about US multilateral engagement through NATO and about some perceived European attitudes. It will be damaging to risk feeding these, in relation to the initiative, by talk of "independence" in tones or context which US hearers may interpret (not always mistakenly?) as intended to appeal domestically to the gut anti-Americanism still present here and there in Europe.

  10.  It is no doubt conceivable that if the initiative makes great and sustained headway for many years it could eventually face questions to which the answers would differ according to whether the ultimate underlying aspiration was (in simplifying shorthand) to do things better with the United States or without the United States—questions like whether to duplicate in full form very-high-cost-high-technology capabilities for which the West at present relies almost entirely upon the United States. But that fork in the road lies, on any realistic view, far ahead; and I suggest that Europe would do best now to concentrate not upon contentious political theorising about what route ought or ought not to be taken, and with what implications, if it is ever reached but upon practical Western-contribution advance along nearer stretches which will provide challenge enough.

13 March 2000

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