Wednesday, July 23, 2003
The Heart of Europe - 23rd July 2003, 23.54

Once the "group of 4" had convened on the 29th of April to lend a helping hand to the campaigning Belgian Prime Minister, we heard very little of their proposal. Like all things European, gone is not forgotten. Jan de Bock, Belgium's permanent ambassador to the EU, spoke about this endeavour on the 14th July. He noted that the objectives: a training centre for pilots and a strategic airlift command, had met a "benign" reception from the United Kingdom. Bock's explanation for the lack of British hostility was:

He [Blair] feels that now that the euro decision has been put off indefinitely, "the defence file might once again take over as London's central claim at the heart of Europe".

Yet, as Will Hutton notes through his Europhilia, the Blair government has cast its vote for the Americans, in order to maintain the flow of hitech transfer. Whilst correct in analysing the long-term effects of becoming a 'Pentagon satrapy', Hutton is, as always, grasps the EU as a viable and grateful alternative. Howver, his words are appropriate, even if his solutions are dreadful:

The argument is that as America's and Britain's foreign and security ambitions are identical, and that as there is little prospect of being in any significant conflict where the Americans are not fighting as well, we should have compatible military equipment and command structures. We should simply ride the technological coat-tails of the US, accept its draconian rules for technological transfer and cede 100,000 British jobs and defence capability to whichever American company is prepared to buy BAE. Doubtless, if the terms are right, members of the BAE board will make a small fortune through their share options. Blair, Hoon and Straw are signed up to the cause.

This, I think, is the gravest betrayal of our national interest. The argument turns on two false premises. British and American interests are not always and everywhere identical, as should be obvious after Iraq, where we are committed to a long-term, expensive and potentially murderous engagement for precious little gain and without UN support.

Part of the solution is here. The argument turns upon how we define our needs.

The air, naval and ground requirements are distinctive and need to be supported by an appropriately customised defence manufacturing infrastructure. To become part of the US defence complex serving very different needs is lunacy, even if it enriches BAE directors and gives a short-term fix to redressing the company's technological weakness....We may want access to American technology, but let's not sacrifice our integrity as a country to gain it.


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