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Britain's Growing Collaboration with the European Union on a Pan-Europe Defense SystemBritish MP Calum MacDonald

Britain's Growing Collaboration with the European Union on a Pan-Europe Defense System

Tony Blair commits Britain to join the EU in creating a 200,000 troop military that can deploy 60,000 troops on immediate notice.

By Jennifer Du

Calum MacDonald, a member of Britain’s House of Commons representing Scotland, spoke at UCLA’s Public Policy School April 17  on the United Kingdom’s readiness to seriously build a common defense system with the European Union. The lecture was sponsored by the Burkle Center for International Relations.

After a long, very isolationist period, MacDonald said, Britain has decided to establish an open-door policy and make way for increased collaboration with the European Union to create an international defense system.

After years of anti-French sentiment among British leaders, this shift came in December of 1998 when British Prime Minister Tony Blair met with French President Jacques Chirac to sign the Saint Malo Declaration. The Declaration served for France as a reaffirmation of and for Britain as a new commitment to the European Union’s united stance on defense building, stating that the EU "must have the capacity for autonomous action, backed up by credible military forces, the means to decide to use them, and a readiness to do so, in order to respond to international crises."

The Summit of 1998, hailed as a marvel by much of Europe, pledged that both parties would make drastic efforts to improve their defense systems through increased allocation of funds and more cooperation with the EU.

The Declaration, however, left many suspicious as to why Britain had suddenly changed its defense policy and improved relations with France, a country it has long had antagonistic feelings towards. During the lecture, MacDonald offered two views. The cynical view attributes the Declaration to Blair’s desire as the newly elected Prime Minister of Britain in 1997, to make Britain the center of Europe. At that time, Britain opposed the EU’s single currency. Even now, Britain has yet to adopt the euro as its monetary standard. Thus Blair needed an alternative route to bring Britain to center stage.

Two Views of Blair's Motives

The idealistic view, said MacDonald, resulted from the 1998 conflicts in Kosovo. MacDonald described Blair as a man with strong views about the former Yugoslavia and the prior and ongoing atrocities in the region. According to MacDonald, in 1998, as ethnic cleansing seemed make a resurgence, Blair felt a “strong desire” to take action with the United States, and thought that the European international community had failed to meet the challenge.

The fact of the matter was that Europe’s military capabilities were all too minimal at the time. The EU struggled just to supply 1,000 troops during 1998. Thus Blair saw an immediate need to improve European defense.

To illustrate his point, MacDonald compared the EU military with that of the United States. Europe at the time had no communications system between the European armies, severely limiting strategic capabilities between them. European ground troops were 40% of what they had been in the 1970s and their naval power was just as depleted. MacDonald pointed out that while the U.S. spends nearly $300 billion on defense each year, the EU spends barely a third of that amount. On average, US$60,000 dollars are spent on each U.S. soldier, compared to US$20,000 for each European soldier. MacDonald explained that the problem also lies in how available money is spent. Because the EU military budget must be divided among the fifteen countries that comprise the EU, much money is lost in duplication. While the U.S. has one Secretary of Defense, the EU has fifteen. The same is true for all other military personnel and policies.

Despite the clear European military deficit, MacDonald pointed out that much progress has been made. After the signing of the Saint Malo Declaration, the EU planned to meet every six months to discuss the progress of its defense building plan. Since then, a former secretary of NATO has been appointed to oversee the newly established military and security committees within the EU.

The European Union's Defense Goals

The EU defense system has  set some clear goals. By 2003, it is planned to have a 60,000-strong force able to be deployed on immediate command. This means that about 200,000 troops are needed to rotate in and out on a regular basis. To date, 100,000 soldiers have joined the component forces. Member state Germany has also reduced its conscript army to 80,000 men and in turn built a professional volunteer army of 200,000.

The EU has also strengthened waning relations with NATO, agreeing to have the respective chairs of NATO and the EU defense forces regularly attend each other’s meetings. Even non-EU members such as Turkey and Norway have made military contributions, in return for four annual updates on the security status of the EU.

The results of these collective efforts were seen recently as France, notorious for its anti-American sentiments, sent ground troops to Afghanistan and provided the U.S. with a number of refueling ships as well.

MacDonald acknowledged that the European military still has a long way to go, but concluded that it has made a number of notable improvements since the Declaration in 1998. Also, because the EU donates 50% of current world foreign aid, the EU’s highly developed “soft power” (humanitarian aid and foreign loans) compensates for its low levels of “hard power” (military strength).

MacDonald ended by pointing out that although terrorists “can be wiped out with position-guided cruise missiles” and troops, the conditions for a real peace will require nonmilitary efforts to eliminate poverty and create jobs.

Burkle Center for International Relations