On Wednesday we had the unedifying experience of watching the government squirm over the wrongful inclusion of General Sir Michael Rose in what amounted to a ‘campaign letter’ for the Remain side.
It hardly surprises me that the General has no truck with such a letter (and apparently ignored it, not even bothering to respond, thereby showing it the respect it probably deserved). He has a good record of being a wiser head than some of his successors in the top ranks.
But a roll call of the names that did sign the letter and have come out backing the EU for our ‘continued security’ shows a list of high profile military top brass, many of whom came to our attention in the Blair/Brown ‘Decade of War’.
I won’t bore you all with their military records, they are of course all highly decorated and their careers star studded. However, one thing many share in common is that they were in high office in the decade of war that followed the adoption of the ‘Neo Conservative Intervention’ policy by the Blair Administration. The continuation of that policy has arguably been the driving factor behind a great many of our current security issues today.
Iraq has been an unmitigated disaster, the power vacuum left by the toppling of Saddam Hussain has plunged the region into chaos. Then there is the Arab Spring, support for which has seen the rise of Arab and Islamic militancy across the region. Add to that the military action in Libya, which while well intentioned has led to the total failure of the state and is directly responsible for much of the death in the Mediterranean that we see on a regular basis.The record of recent years has been less than stellar. Add to that list our Syrian policy, and the evidence is as plain as the nose on your face. And that brings us nicely on to the substance of the letter, that the EU is vital to our defence and security issues.
To look at that constructively, it might be wise to look eastwards to the Ukraine. Ukraine is in an unusual position, a country split ethnically by its associations with both the European and Russian heritage of its people. After the cold war, Ukraine (and other former Soviet states) were left in the possession of the fast decaying Soviet Nuclear arsenal. This was removed as part of the Budapest Memorandum, which in return for the removal of Nuclear weapons offered assurances that the parties would not threaten the territorial integrity or political independence of the Ukraine.
Now of course, this did not turn Ukraine into a fully functioning democratic state overnight, and it could be held that Russia had often interfered in Ukrainian politics and had strategic interests in the Crimea (where it held large naval assets – a region that had been ‘gifted’ to the Ukraine in a rather odd way during the Soviet era but had always been regarded as part of Russia itself). Its political rulers had faced many allegations of corruption and kleptocracy. That said, it was largely a safe place to live, despite its lack of transparent democracy. It was not a failed state.
The EU, in 2008, proposed with the Ukrainian government a Stabilisation and Association agreement, in a move seen by many commentators as designed to pave the way for eventual accession to the EU of Ukraine. This of course, was seen as a threat to their influence, and of course their military interests by the Russian government.
In 2011, the Trial and subsequent imprisonment Julia Tymoshenko became a sticking point in the talks. The EU commissioner Baroness Ashton put pressure on the Ukrainians to release Tymoshenko who had been imprisoned for corruption, in a trial believed by the West to be largely politically motivated. However, the government of which she was a part had faced several allegations, and her business dealings before election had come into question. Even in the ranks of the opposition supporters, not all welcomed her back with open arms when she was eventually released. (She was seen as little cleaner than her successor, whom they wanted removed). Moreover, this was a political interference in the Ukraine and signalled the depth of the intentions of the Association agreement.
Association agreements are not just trade agreements. They also cover numerous areas such as social, political, cultural and security co-operation, though in this case the focus was centred on trade as a priority. This though, right on Russia’s doorstep could be seen as a clear provocation. Russia duly reacted, and the political pressure brought to bear left the agreement in tatters as Yanukovych opted to strengthen diplomatic and trade ties with Russia instead.
The revolution which then occurred, it has been argued, was fomented by the belief amongst the opposition coalition that the EU nations would somehow stand behind the ‘new government’, even though any involvement in the Ukraine would have broken the terms of their earlier agreements post Cold War. But it needed a physical push to bring it to boiling point.
The leaked phone call from Baroness Ashton (EU foreign affairs representative) to the Estonian Foreign Minister shows the closeness of the EU machine to the opposition in the Ukraine, and in their attempts to create an alternative government. It also laid bare their behind the scenes backing for economic aid based on a change of government and reform to institutions. They also discuss the likelihood that the people that they had backed had deliberately attempted to erupt the violent revolution and coup by having snipers shoot their own protesters. Yet still they pressed on.
It was clear also that it was not just the EU involved in this process, the USA also had an interest in ‘boxing Russia in’, and the depth of the involvement in the political upheaval that followed was laid bare by the intercepted phone call between Victoria Nuland, the assistant Secretary for Eurasian affairs and the US ambassador in the Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt. These two powers appeared by Nuland’s comments to be jockeying for position with the coalition that was in the process of taking over the government of Ukraine.
The disaster which has unfolded in Ukraine was perfectly avoidable. There was no urgency in either political or strategic terms to interfere in the Ukraine at all, even if the policy was deliberately one of ‘Containing Russia’. Ukraine was a buffer, strategically it was always going to be important to the Russians, because if it were to be peeled away then the Russians could foresee a time when they faced NATO (or possibly EU if Brussels gets its way) troops on their borders. But for the EU, it would always have been impossible to defend politically, diplomatically or militarily, if push came to shove.
So this EU is the organisation which our retired Generals believe make us safer in Britain. One with little foreign policy skill, then represented by a Baroness who had been treasurer of CND, worked for a Health Authority, run a business consultancy, but had no serious Foreign policy grounding or experience. How can Britain be safer in an organisation that promotes such people to positions of extreme influence?
Of course it has other structural weaknesses, the Schenghen agreement (which is coming under increasing pressure), and the inability to police its external borders are both seen as significant problems, even by more Europhile commentators. But the real weakness is that it doesn’t have the skill or the cohesion of a national Foreign and diplomatic service. There are too many conflicting interests within the members, and the process for appointing High Commissioners reflects the internal pressures of the Union – leading to inexperienced representatives such as Baroness Ashton.
It is clear to me that the experience of Ukraine alone dictates that Britain must have a distinct and independent foreign and security policy, neither in hock to the EU (and its expansionist desires) or too closely aligned to that of the USA. This will take a degree of political courage, but is an achievable and realistic aim for an Independent Britain.
Tony is a Musician, Luthier, Teacher and a Brexit campaigner. Follow him on Twitter here: @
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty