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Speech by Ian Duncan Smith MP

Ian Duncan Smith MP

Leader, Conservative Party

On: Defence: NATO and the European Union

30 January 2001

“The nations of Europe have come a long way in the fifty-six years since the end of the Second World War. Together with the US and Canada under the umbrella of NATO we have faced down the threat from the old Soviet Union and under that protective shield have managed to establish democratic and stable nations, who are less likely to go to war with each other than at any time in history.

Yet since the ending of the Cold War there has been a marked reluctance to focus on what threats are likely to emerge that could affect us all, both at home and abroad.

I can well understand the relief that many felt when the Berlin wall came down, but that relief is no substitute for clear thinking.

Tonight I therefore would like to focus first on the nature of the developing threat and how that can affect all of us and then I would like to focus on the way that we are reacting to that and the wrong decisions that I believe, we are in the process of making.

Anyone with knowledge of military history will know the fate that is likely to await those who plan for war with the weapons and strategies of the previous conflict.  There is a good example: prior to 1940 the French high command placed its confidence in the Maginot line, a fixed line of fortification stretching 200 miles along the northeast border of France.  During World War 1 such defences had proved almost impenetrable 

Sixty years on, it is fashionable to conjure up pictures of an overwhelming German force sweeping aside inferior numbers of French and British forces.  But the truth is that in 1940 the French army was as large as Germany’s and was supported by the British Expeditionary Force.   Yet eight months after the fall of Poland Panzer divisions, supported from the air, swept through the allied defences in parallel thrusts, stopping only a few miles from the English Channel.  The Maginot line, though still intact, had proved utterly ineffective. Its impact had merely been to instil a false sense of security and, when war came, to leave the inflexible French units stranded and impotent behind the rapidly advancing German forces.

There are of course, dangers in drawing historical parallels. But here there is a similarity between the conditions and attitudes of the 1930s and those of today. For the West – by which I mean NATO – is trying to maintain international stability by means largely designed to meet the security requirements of an era, which has changed dramatically, just as Britain and France sought to do sixty years ago.

The world has moved on, but the significance of the changes that have occurred has not been acknowledged.  Consequently, our defences are ill equipped for new dangers that are becoming urgent and compelling.  There has been some reshaping of our armed services in line with new realities, even if this has taken place in the context of rapidly falling defence budgets (Britain’s defence expenditure has fallen by 23 per cent in real terms and our forces have been cut back by a third since 1990). But the changes that have been made simply do not meet the challenge of a vastly transformed security environment.

Emerging Threats

The simple reality that history teaches us is that threats to world stability are geographically diffused and can, by their nature, emerge suddenly.  North Korea and Iran are among the countries currently seeking to develop long-range ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction.  Others have followed them.  The ex-head of UNSCOM makes a clear point that despite the sanctions Saddam Hussein is close to developing nuclear weapons and his effort to develop missiles has progressed at a great pace.

It would be an abdication of our responsibility if we did not try to anticipate what could be the foremost security threat of the new century.  I hope that our European allies will recognise that we have a shared interest with the US in containing the potential menace.

The proliferation of ballistic missiles, and the weapons of mass destruction with which they are armed, is the most daunting threat of modern times.  Between 35 to 40 countries have some missile capability, and according to a report from Britain’s Lancaster University, up to 18 have either nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons warheads with which to arm them. Recent developments confirm previous estimates that certain states have the capability and are engaged in aggressive proliferation of these weapons.

Over the last year a number of countries have successfully tested missiles – Iran test-fired its first solid-liquid fuel missile. The missile, the Shahab-3D has a range of 810 miles.

Syria also successfully tested first North Korean ground-to-ground Scud D missile[1], with a maximum range of about 600 km. Like the earlier models, the Scud D is capable of being armed with chemical and biological warheads manufactured in Syria. Libya has taken a delivery of a consignment of North Korean ballistic missiles capable of hitting targets in Israel and NATO states in Southern Europe.

The grim facts of the proliferation of missile and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) were soberly set-out by the Rumsfeld Commission, and most recently by the US Defence Department report, published at the beginning of January “Proliferation: Threat and Response”[2]

It noted:

“At least 25 countries now possess or are in the process of acquiring and developing capabilities to inflict mass casualties and destruction: nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) weapons or the means to deliver them”.

These reports have clearly had a significant impact on attitudes in Washington, but surprisingly have had little impact on opinion in Europe. European leaders are resisting any calls for co-operation with the United States on these proposals.

All that growing weapons capability in itself is a cause of great concern, yet when one considers to what degree that capability is linked with areas of great political instability and tension one can see how quickly these threats could develop. These weapons are weapons as much of terror as war fighting weapons. The possession of this capability could change the whole approach of the West in handling threats to their interests.

Some argue that our massive nuclear deterrence would be sufficient defence, ironically often the same people who opposed our possession of it in the 60s, 70s and 80s.  Not even a Saddam Hussein, they point out, would risk such retaliation.  Yet imagine that the threat is made.  The country threatened, perhaps in the same region, may not be much reassured for they will realise they will have to suffer the consequences of the initial strike.  They may also question whether the UK or the USA would retaliate with overwhelming force if their homeland is not targeted.  Furthermore, what if the threat was a chemical or biological one, not nuclear?   Are we certain that we would strike back with a massive nuclear warhead?  It is that marginal judgement which makes the threat alone so destabilising to our allies and friends.  It is the point that I started with when I referred to those who fight future conflicts by means designed for a previous era.  In this case, when only a few nations possessed nuclear weapons as opposed to many.

To illustrate this, try to imagine what would have happened had Milosevic possessed such a weapon.  Who would have laid money on the Alliance holding together had Athens or Rome, for example, been targeted?  And would we have engaged with Iraq had Saddam Hussein had this capability and threatened his neighbours.

Given the nature of the emerging threat, it is surely an ideal opportunity to remodel the NATO alliance to better counter these threats.

The first way to do this is for the nations of Europe to join the United States in the development of BMD. In short, to create a NATO based programme. To sit back and hope that the problem would go away is the first step to appeasement, and we know where that got us in the 1930s.

Yet confronted by these threats, the last few years show that they are not prepared to face this problem.  Across the EU as a whole, military spending is down by around 20 per cent the mid-nineties. For example Germany has cut its budget by £7.5 billion since 1995 – a reduction of 30 per cent.  They are not alone.

Ah! I anticipate some of you may say, isn’t the ESDP the way to deal with this.

Sadly as I intend to show, the ESDP shows every likelihood of becoming part of the problem not part of the solution.

The Risks to NATO

There is a risk that competing priorities may come into play. Every European member of NATO will have only one set of forces and one defence budget, not one force and one budget for NATO and another force and military budget for the EU.

If European nations, with its ESDP, are seen as having autonomous and competing institutions, rather than integrated, transparent and complementary ones, then NATO and collective security are likely to suffer. This will leave both North America and Europe relying on uncoordinated, inefficient and ad hoc responses to destabilizing threats.

There is the risk that dual planning institutions will in turn create new bureaucracies. We are already seeing this happen. And indeed Sir John Weston, Britain’s former ambassador to NATO has described the new ESDP structures as being “excruciatingly bureaucratic” (Daily Telegraph 11 January 2001).

Nor is this an inclusive process.  Non-EU members of NATO – such as Turkey, Norway, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and even Denmark (opted out) – are being discriminated against and excluded from consideration. This is already risking division and could lead to fragmentation and a loss of the cohesion in the Alliance.  The Turkish Government has been so concerned by such developments that they have refused to agree that the EU should have guaranteed access to NATO military planners when conducting operations.

There is also a danger that this could make caucusing within NATO a possibility

Indeed as the former US Defence Secretary, William Cohen noted last year:

“ It would highly ineffective, seriously wasteful of resources, contradictory of the basic principles of close NATO-EU cooperation that we hope to establish if NATO and the EU would proceed along the path of relying on autonomous force planning structures…”  (Birmingham, 11 Oct, 2000)

But above all, despite the Government’s talk about improved European defence capabilities, the new European force does not extend Western Europe’s collective defence capability.  It does not provide for a single new soldier or a single new bullet.  All it does is to transfer the chain of command from the national capitals to the EU.  So even if we were to disregard all our worries about the threat to NATO, we are still left with a force, which is at best – at best – a pointless and expensive exercise in duplication.

The Nice Summit

It is no good politicians, including Mr Blair, trying to deny that this EU defence force is not separate from NATO, and is simply there to enhance NATO. The Nice summit produced concrete evidence, of what I consider to be a disastrous shift away from NATO.

The facts (from the nice agreement) are these:

  • The EU military forces are independent and autonomous from NATO
  • The planning for many operations can and will be done outside of NATO
  • It is the EU that will make the decision whether to conduct an operation and only then might consult NATO (they are not obliged to do so)
  • The EU will retain full political and strategic control throughout any operation (whether NATO is involved or not)

The Draft Presidency Report on the European Security and Defence Policy and annexes to the report show that apart from the cosmetic statements about NATO and the EU, the document is about a wholly separate organisation.  There are no formal ties between the EU and NATO, and no control by NATO at any point. One annex deals with the relationship between the EU and NATO. It shows clearly that the EU has embarked on a process, which is autonomous from NATO, leaving NATO without the right of refusal on EU defence operations.

Nice Treaty Annexes

The Nice treaty annexes show clearly that the EU will make the decision whether and when to talk to NATO:

“When necessary…the dialogue will be supplemented by inviting NATO representatives to meetings, in accordance with the provisions of TEU” (p. 55)

It is clear that the EU will decide on operations, not NATO. The document notes this in several places:

“Once the EU has chosen a strategic option, experts from both organizations will meet to determine the pre-identified assets and capabilities” (p. 59).

“In the event of an EU operation calling for NATO assets and capabilities the following ….of the European Union will be established: Once the EU has chosen the strategic options ….On a proposal from the EUMC (EU military committee)”. (p.59)

It is also evident that the EU retains full political control throughout:

“Should the EU consider an in-depth study of a strategic option, which calls for NATO… after the EU council has adopted a strategic option…the entire chain of command must remain under the political control and strategic direction of the EU throughout the operation matter consultation between the two organizations…NATO will be informed of the developments…” (p. 60)

Britain now maintains that it is going to allocate at least 12,500 men, 18 warships and 72 combat aircraft to this organisation. Yet, this itself seems at odds with their constantly stated point by Mr Blair and others that the ESDP is for low-level humanitarian, rescue and peacekeeping tasks. If that is the case then I am not quite sure what these men, ships and aircraft are for.

But anyway the real question is where are all these to come from. These are no extra soldiers, ships or aircraft. They are all allocated for national and NATO deployments and as such they are already desperately overstretched. It is also apparent that this is the same for every other nation that has signed up to this at Nice.

The Political Drivers

So if it is not about seriously enhancing military capability it can only be yet again about politics.

President Chirac says that the force is needed because “the European Union cannot fully exist until it possesses an autonomous defence capacity” [AFP, 29 May 1999].  His Minister for Europe, Pierre Moscovici, sees the European defence initiative as “the completion of the European project” adding, with admirable frankness, that it will “bear France’s imprint”.[L’Express, 20 Jan 2000].  Germany’s Defence Minister, Rudolph Scharping, has described it as “an important step in a new field of European integration.”

There is a genuine concern that progressively in future, European members of NATO will be under pressure from the EU who will arrive at a common position prior to NATO meetings. This would develop into an unhelpful and dangerous America vs Europe confrontation.

NATO and the EU’s response

The policy issue that will test NATO in the 21st century is the way in which the Alliance will respond to the proliferation of the weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them. Critical to this is the way in which the EU defence project will develop.

These two issues have the ability to both unite NATO and divide it. The United States has a clear and strong belief that they need to develop and deploy some form of Ballistic Missile Defence.

Traditionally the United Kingdom would have acted to bridge the current gap in opinions on each side of the Alliance, as we did with the deployment of Cruise and Pershing in the 1980s. But Mr Blair’s support for the ESDP, and his own equivocal stance on missile defence, has seen the UK abandon this role. Furthermore, European defence thinking is increasingly influenced by anti-American undertones. 

In short the Labour Government has not just embarked on a European defence policy which is undermining the Atlantic Alliance, the same Alliance that has formed the bedrock of Western security for the post–war years, but it is failing to support our American allies as they endeavour to respond to the very real threat to international security.

The Government’s policy seeks to make a virtue of indecision, whilst pretending impotence is strength.

“Take a lead in building support in Europe for co-operating with the US on the development of ballistic missile defences, to counter the new threat from rogue states and terrorists equipped with weapons of mass destruction.” (p. 27)

And Conservatives will maintain NATO as the cornerstone of our collective security in Europe. European defence capabilities should be enhanced within NATO, and not through duplicate and conflicting EU structures. We will work immediately to draw back under the NATO umbrella the arrangements being made under the European Security and Defence Policy.

Conservatives believe that we should be reinforcing the European pillar of NATO, not duplicating or replacing it. 


I started with the threat and that’s where I would like to finish.

Faced by this developing threat, it should be in the interests of European nations to work with the USA to create a NATO based defence.  The basis of such a programme would be to accept that the imbalance in capability cannot be allowed to continue if NATO is to remain viable. 

Yet when one examines what is happening, any impartial observer would be forced to the very important conclusion that if the new European defence force is the answer, what was the question?

For when one peels back the rhetoric and examines the reality, one can see that it offers no new forces, only new structures.   It offers no new flexibility within NATO only a new political organisation separate from NATO.  Sadly its existence seems to address some European politicians’ obsessive concerns about America, by creating an artificial divide between the USA and European nations

History teaches us all too often and too harshly that those who hope that conflict can be avoided, and do nothing, or those who prepare for the wrong conflict are quickly found out.   That I fear will be the outcome if we allow ourselves to continue down a road which is political and divisive.

Mr Blair and others have spoken of their ambitions for Europe as a superpower.  However, future generations will have harsh words for those who put the politics of European integration ahead of the defence of their peoples and they would have good reason – but by then it may be too late to act.”